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Teachers Are Among Most Educated, Yet Their Pay Lags

Average Teachers’ Earnings Declining,

Lower Than Similarly Educated Workers


JULY 21, 2022

Although teachers are among the nation’s most educated workers, they earn far less on average than most other highly educated workers and their earnings have declined since 2010.

More than 95% of elementary, middle, and high school teachers have a bachelor’s degree or more. In 2019, the average earnings of elementary and middle school teachers with a bachelor’s degree or more who work full-time, year-round was $53,800. For high school teachers, it was $57,840.

These earnings fall short of what their similarly educated peers earn:

  • Biological scientists ($69,880).

  • Urban and regional planners ($79,790).

  • Physical therapists ($81,580).

  • Statisticians ($96,320).

Just over one-half of elementary and middle school teachers and 58% of high school teachers also have a graduate degree. They still earn less ($61,130 and $64,340, respectively) than that of other equally educated workers.

For example, at least one-half of the workers in these occupations have a graduate degree, but they earn more than teachers:

  • Judicial law clerks ($77,960).

  • Biological scientists ($76,260).

  • Geoscientists and hydrologists ($111,100).

In addition, teachers earn less than workers in some occupations with a much lower percentage of advanced degrees:

  • Human resources workers (19.4% with a graduate degree; $77,430).

  • Accountants and auditors (27.4% with a graduate degree; $84,050).

  • Registered nurses (12.6% with a graduate degree; $82,210).

Young teachers and older/middle-aged teachers have lower earnings than most of their similarly educated peers.

Median earnings for younger teachers (ages 25-34) with a bachelor’s degree or more are $46,310 for elementary and middle school teachers and $49,270 for high school teachers, much lower than that of other younger workers with similar education levels. For workers ages 55-64, the pattern is similar:

This earnings penalty occurs for both male and female teachers. However, more women are affected by it since women dominate teaching, making up 80% of elementary and middle school full-time teachers and 56% of high school teachers.

Teaching was the second-most common occupation among women in 2019, second only to nursing.

Teachers’ Earnings Declined Since 2010

Median earnings overall have recovered from their decline in the wake of the Great Recession, but teachers’ earnings have continued to fall.

Median earnings for all full-time, year-round workers have increased by 2.6% since 2010, from $48,792 to $50,078 (in 2019 dollars).

Elementary and middle school teachers’ median earnings declined by 8.4%, from $57,180 to $52,368 (in 2019 dollars). Their median earnings declined throughout the decade, with a slight uptick between 2014 and 2016.

The drop in earnings of elementary and middle school teachers is one of the largest among occupations with similar education.

During the decade, their median earnings have fallen close to that of all full-time, year-round workers, with or without a college education.

High school teachers’ median earnings also declined — 4.4% from $59,529 to $57,033. With almost 3 million full-time workers, these teachers make up 6.7% of the total college-educated, full-time workforce and 9.8% of workers with a graduate degree.

Pursuing a higher education degree is a substantial investment, and the data show that the return on that investment is lower for teachers.

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