Teaching Profession

The Gender Pay Gap Is a Problem for Teachers, Too

By Madeline Will — March 13, 2023 5 min read
A conceptual image of a female being paid less than a male.
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Female teachers make less than male teachers on average, despite making up about 77 percent of the profession.

“We are presenting evidence that female labor in public schools is systematically sidelined or devalued relative to men’s labor,” said Michael Hansen, a senior fellow in the Brown Center on Education Policy at the Brookings Institution and a co-author of a new report that quantifies the gender wage gap in the teaching profession.

Female teachers make roughly $2,200 less than their male counterparts when all sources of school-based income—base salary, extra-duty pay, and summer school jobs—are combined, and the data is controlled for factors like school poverty and teacher experience.

The Brown Center report was released Monday, the day before Equal Pay Day, which represents how far into the year women must work to earn what men earned in the previous year. In 2022, female workers in the United States earned an average of 82 percent of what men earned, according to a Pew Research Center analysis.

The study found that the largest driver of the gender wage gap in teaching is the supplemental pay that teachers receive for taking on extra duties in school, including coaching and supervising other student extracurricular activities.

The gender wage gap is $714 in base pay, $1,204 in extra-duty pay, $180 for a non-teaching job in the summer, and $80 for summer teaching, according to the researchers’ reviews of 2015-16 and 2017-18 federal data, the most recent available.

Among the extra-duty assignments that come with stipends, coaching had the highest gender wage gap, followed by student group sponsors. Male coaches and student group sponsors earned $1,647 and $1,009 more, respectively, than their female counterparts with similar characteristics.

Male teachers are slightly more likely to participate in the extra paid work at schools and are much more likely to be paid for it—especially if their school principal is also a man, the study found.

Even though teaching is a predominately female workforce, men tend to dominate the upper rungs of school and district leadership. Women make up 56 percent of the nation’s principals and just 30 percent of the superintendents of the largest 500 school districts.

One female teacher pushed for change

The study’s results weren’t surprising to Gretel Rodriguez, an English teacher in California who said she’s long pushed for pay equity in her career.

For example, as a cheerleading adviser more than a decade ago, Rodriguez discovered that she was paid less than half for the whole school year than what coaches of male-dominated sports were making in a single season. She and the other cheer coaches protested, and administrators ultimately agreed to pay them per semester rather than per school year.

Another challenge: when male teachers got more of the extra assignments that came with a stipend than female teachers.

Sometimes, Rodriguez said, “admin would say: ‘I chose him because no one else was interested.’ We were never told” about the opportunity.

Rodriguez said her local teachers’ union led efforts to enshrine in the contract a rotation policy for extra duties. Administrators had to email the whole staff if an opportunity for an extra job that came with a stipend came up, and then rotate those opportunities among all who were interested.

Having such a clear policy in place can help circumvent gender-based discrimination that may stem from chummy relationships among male principals and teachers, said Rodriguez, who is the chairperson of the California Teachers Association’s Women’s Caucus.

“When you come into a profession that’s predominately women, you look for an ally in the room,” she said. “You reach out to the person you think you can relate to or build rapport with.”

Past research has found that male teachers are 12 percent more likely to leave their school if the principal was a woman than if the principal was a man. (The study found no such effects for female teachers.) That study found also found some evidence that male principals might give male teachers more favorable treatment, including more pay and a higher chance of promotions.

“If you’re a male, you’re immediately shot up into administration in the first two to five years, especially if you have a male principal,” Rodriguez said, adding that she’s been discouraged by administrators for pursuing that career path.

Some additional takeaways

The Brown Center study found a couple of distinctions when analyzing the gender pay gap across the profession:

  • Male teachers are 12 percentage points more likely to participate in extra duties than female teachers when they are 21 to 30 years old, and 7 percentage points more likely when they are 31 to 36 years old. Those are typically the ages when women are having babies or caring for young children. But that doesn’t explain all of the differences in compensation between genders, the study found.
  • The study also analyzed the role of teachers’ unions and found that gender wage gaps persist in all settings but in different ways. Small districts in states where collective bargaining is illegal—where union influence would be the lowest—have larger gender wage gaps in extra duty pay and smaller ones in base pay. Meanwhile, large districts in states that do allow collective bargaining—where union influence would be the highest—have small wage gaps in extra duty pay but larger ones in base pay. The researchers could not explain that breakdown.
  • The researchers did not find similar wage gaps between white teachers and teachers of color.

What can help close the gender pay gap? The researchers recommended policy solutions such as strengthening teacher contracts to explicitly state the supplemental pay for extra duties, prohibiting employers from accessing information about a new hire’s past compensation, and engaging in participatory budgeting, where teachers and community members get a say in what types of after-school work should get compensated and how much.

Also, increased pay transparency within districts, as well as explicit and uniform expectations around extra duty assignments, could be a key solution, Hansen said.

“Having some accountability and pay transparency, we suspect, would be able to highlight incidents where compensation is not fair,” he said. “I think that would go a long way to helping toward keeping principals from perhaps capriciously compensating some teachers and not compensating others.”

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