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Even in Female-Dominated Education Workforce, Women Earn Less Than Men

Women dominate the education workforce, yet they can't count on equal pay for equal work, a new study shows.

Despite many school districts' use of apparently neutral uniform salary schedules, females in the education workforce are typically paid less than males for similar roles, according to an analysis of educators' salaries and pension benefits in Illinois by the nonprofit Bellwether Education Partners.

The study looked at more than 130,000 full-time school employees in Illinois, including teachers and administrators. The data showed that women educators statewide earn on average $7,775 per year less than men. 

The graph below shows men on average begin their education careers with higher salaries than women: $45,000 compared with $43,000. This salary gap grows along with years of experience. By the time educators qualify for a pension benefit at 10 years on the job, women are earning on average $8,500 less than men. 


What's more, women are underrepresented in higher-paying administrator jobs in Illinois. When they do hold these positions, they are often underpaid. The chart below shows the biggest pay disparity in administrator jobs exists at the middle school and high school levels. A female middle school administrator with about a year more of experience than a male doing the same job earns nearly $4,000 less. A female high school administrator earns about $3,000 less on average than a male in the same position.

The disparity is evident at the elementary school level too, where 89 percent of teachers and two-thirds of administrators are female. Here, women are trailing men in earnings if you consider that their salaries are not commensurate with their years of experience. Women elementary teachers, for instance, make $50 more on average than male elementary teachers, but that's a mere $50 more for nearly two years more experience. And women elementary administrators with about two more years of experience than male administrators only make on average $137 more. 


The pay disparity between women and men holds up despite equal educational attainment as well. The chart shows that male bachelor's degree holders earn nearly $3,400 more than females with the same credentials. Males with a master's degree or higher earn about $9,500 more than women with equivalent degrees. 


Pensions don't tell much of a different story. Statewide, men have annual pensions worth $36,785, compared with only $32,971 for women. 

The study shows the pension disparity with this example: Compare a typical male educator with a typical female educator. Both began teaching at 30 years old and retired after 30 years. The man's yearly pension would be about $8,000 more valuable than the woman's pension. After 10 years, the man would have accrued about $80,000 more in pension benefits than the woman.


Among other recommendations, the report's author suggests that states and districts take a closer look at uniform salary schedules since they don't necessarily guard against salary disparities. States and districts can:

  • Analyze salary data to determine if educators earn similar salaries for similar performance.
  • Determine if new mothers' salaries suffer over the long term when they take time off to care for their families.
  • Check the rules governing new educators' starting salaries. Are limits on the number of years of experience awarded disadvantaging women and other groups? 
  • Evaluate promotion data and practices to identify race- or gender-based inequities.

Images: Bellwether Education Partners "Pension Problems: How Gender and Race Complicate Illinois' Teacher Retirement Woes"

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