New Study Finds A Gender Gap In Teachers’ Salaries

By Ann Bradley — December 13, 1989 5 min read

Women high-school teachers nationwide earn an average of $2,300 to $3,300 less than their male counterparts, a new study has found.

Moreover, according to the study’s authors, even when differences in educational attainment, experience, field of teaching, and other factors that could justify lower pay are taken into account, women continue to earn less than men.

The survey included teachers in public, private, and Catholic high schools. In each type of school, women teachers were paid less than men, the study found.

When education and other factors are accounted for, women teachers in public high schools were found on average to earn $1,134 less than their male colleagues. In Catholic schools, women teachers were paid $1,670 less, and private-school women teachers made $2,582 less, the study found.

Valerie E. Lee, assistant professor of education at the University of Michigan, together with Julia Smith, a research assistant, examined salary data from a random sample of 8,894 teachers in 377 high schools compiled during the 1983-84 school year as part of the U.S. Education Department’s ongoing High School and Beyond study. The sample included 309 public schools, 47 Catholic schools, and 21 private schools.

Ms. Lee said she conducted the study to test the “common belief” that teaching is one of the few professions in which men and women are paid equally.

The findings for private- and Catholic-school teachers were not surprising, Ms. Lee said. Private-school teachers, she noted, negotiate individually for their salaries, and Catholic schools’ faculties frequently include members of religious orders.

But Ms. Lee said she was taken aback by the discrepancy between men and women public-school teachers.

“In public schools, they have rigid salary schedules,” Ms. Lee said. “The only pay criteria are education and experience. They are arrived at by collective bargaining. One would believe that between men and women, things were fair.”

Experience Not A Factor

The study used a statistical method that allowed for adjustments for differing labor-market conditions among schools and districts, which Ms. Lee said had not previously been done in studies of wage discrimination.

The data were adjusted to account for teachers’ years of experience in their current job and in former jobs. Their educational levels also were taken into account.

“People have noted that women’s salaries are, on average, lower than men’s, but they’ve also noted, on average, that women have less experience than men and assumed that explained it,” Ms. Lee said.

However, Ms. Lee found that while women teachers had on average somewhat less experience than men, the difference accounted for only part of the salary differential.

The study considered which courses the teachers taught, in order to take into account bonuses that sometimes are paid to teachers of mathematics and science, who are more likely to be men.

It also examined whether teachers received extra pay for coaching a sport or taking on extra duties, or from merit-pay programs.

Other factors that “might justifiably account for lower salaries” for women teachers were considered, including varying market conditions for teachers and the number of women teachers in a particular school.

“All of that is adjusted,” Ms. Lee said of factors that could explain the wage gap, “and it still won’t go away.”

Hiring Policies Cited

Before adjusting the data for such variables, the study found that men teachers in public high schools were paid an average of $2,600 more than women teachers. Men teaching in Catholic high schools received $2,300 more than their women colleagues, and men employed in private high schools made $3,300 more than similarly employed women.

Keith B. Geiger, president of the National Education Association, said the pay gap could be explained by school-board policies governing the hiring of experienced teachers.

Many such teachers are women moving to a new district with their spouses, Mr. Geiger noted, and very few are given full credit for their experience on the new district’s salary schedule.

Instead, he said, school boards typically give credit for a maximum of five years’ experience.

“Boards of education want the cheapest employees they can get,” Mr. Geiger said. “I hate to say it, but it’s true. Few districts will give in4coming teachers the maximum years of experience.”

Mr. Geiger noted that his wife had not received full credit for her experience when she was hired as a teacher in Fairfax County, Va.

“The only way we can rectify that is to make sure when anybody moves from one district to another, they are given maximum years,” he said.

Local Policies Differ

Jeremiah Floyd, associate executive director of the National School Boards Association, said each local school board sets its own policy governing the amount of “external experience” it will recognize on its own salary scale.

The number is generally below a teacher’s actual experience level, Mr. Floyd acknowledged, but such decisions are made for “totally financial” reasons, he said.

“I do not believe that in 1989 any school board in the nation would countenance sex discrimination in the pay area,” Mr. Floyd said. “It would be against the law.”

Ms. Lee said her study did not seek to explain the reasons for the wage differential she discovered.

“If the people transferring in from other places are [predominantly] females,” Ms. Lee said, “that is a way schools are allowing themselves to discriminate against females.”

More Pay For Experience

Jewell Gould, director of research for the American Federation of Teachers, said the union “worked very hard to overcome” discrimination against women and minorities by pushing for single salary schedules.

Today, large school districts such as Atlanta and Baltimore that are facing a shortage of teachers have begun to pay more for experienced teachers, Mr. Gould noted.

The teachers’ union has been hamstrung in its attempts to negotiate better placement on the salary schedule for experienced teachers by laws that restrict collective bargaining to the working conditions for current employees, he said.

Since the placement issue affects future employees of a district, it is considered outside the scope of bargaining, he added.

Both Mr. Gould and Mr. Geiger said they were confident that teachers with the same levels of education and experience in individual districts were being paid the same amount. Ms. Lee’s study did not assess that situation.

“Where there is a contract,” Mr. Geiger said, “I know of no instance where male teachers are paid more than female teachers if they are on same level of the salary schedule.”

Working women in all fields are paid 66 cents for each dollar earned by men, according to Claudia E. Wayne, executive director of the National Committee on Pay Equity, a Washington-based advocacy group. “I’m not surprised,” she said of Ms. Lee’s findings. “We still don’t have equal pay for equal work.”

A version of this article appeared in the December 13, 1989 edition of Education Week as New Study Finds A Gender Gap In Teachers’ Salaries