NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


July 2, 2004

The removal of gender barriers in male-dominated careers and the pay structure for teachers has reduced the presence of high-aptitude women in the teaching field. Consequently, the quality of female public school teachers has declined slightly over the last 40 years, say observers.

After examining SAT and ACT test scores among women who chose teaching as a profession, researchers for the National Science Foundation discovered:

  • In 1964, almost 20 percent of females in the top decile chose teaching as a profession; by 1992, only 3.7 percent were entering the teaching profession..
  • Moreover, about one-third of teachers who entered the teaching profession in 1964 scored in the lowest six deciles of their class; by 2000, that number had increased to 42 percent.

A study by the National Bureau of Economic Research reveals that over the last 40 years, women have entered higher-paying career fields that were traditionally dominated by men. Ironically, an increasing number of high-aptitude men are entering the teaching profession.

But observers suggest the trend may also be a result of pay compression, where teacher pay was made equal among all aptitude groups. Therefore, earnings for higher-aptitude teachers dropped relative to the average across all aptitude groups, while the earnings for teachers in the lowest-aptitude group rose above the average.

  • The share of the lowest-aptitude college graduates pursuing teaching has increased by about 9 percent due to pay compression.
  • The share of highest-aptitude college graduates pursuing teaching declined by about 12 percent due to pay compression.
  • Real wages for teachers increased about 8 percent between 1963 and 2000, but high-aptitude teachers still experienced relative losses compared to other teachers.

Source: Karen Palasek, "Teachers' Quality Mediocre, Research Shows." Carolina Journal, May 2005, John Locke Institute; and Sean P. Corcoran, William N. Evans, Robert M. Schwab, "Women, the Labor Market and the Declining Relative Quality of Teachers," California State University-Sacramento, on behalf of the National Science Foundation, March 7, 2004. Caroline M. Hoxby and Andrew Leigh. "Pulled Away or Pushed Out? Explaining the Decline of Teacher Aptitude in the United States," Harvard University and NBER, December 2003.


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