Sunday, May 01, 2011

Job prestige for teachers

The multi-decade refrain that teachers don't get enough respect is nonsense.

Sociological research has documented that job prestige is largely a function of the level of education and income associated with the particular occupation.

I regressed GSS job prestige on respondent's education and income (sample = 27,972). Next, I calculated the mean income and educational level for American secondary school teachers. Finally, I plugged the means into the equation which yielded an estimated prestige score of 51.9. So based on a model of job prestige, secondary school teachers are expected to have a score of around 52. What score do they actually have? It's 66. That means that people assign greater prestige to teaching than what would be predicted from a model based on educational level and income. Fourteen more points--that is a lot. (As an example, teachers are held in the same esteem as professional athletes (score 65) but they should be looked at like social workers (52)). 

Teachers get much more respect than other people with jobs requiring similar levels of education and producing similar levels of income. The people working these jobs, not teachers, are the ones getting screwed.


  1. Interesting, but couldn't this go the other way to fit the narrative that teachers are underpaid? What is more native to one's judgment of a task: expectation of earnings related to a task, or the dignity associated to the task? For instance, if I hear about a stripper/prostitute who makes 100k per year, I don't say "wow, I need to respect her more..."

  2. In my model, education was much, much more predictive of prestige than income. I re-ran the model with only education, and the predicted predicted prestige score for secondary school teachers is52.1--basically the same as for a model with education and income as predictors. Their actual score is 66, and they have a mean education of 16.9 years. For all occupations with predicted prestige scores of 66, the mean years of education is 22.7 years. In other words, secondary school teachers who typically have bachelors degrees are enjoying the prestige scores of PhDs.

  3. Perhaps I should mention how job prestige is measured. A sample of Americans is asked to choose a number between 1 and 100 that reflects the prestige of a job. A mean from the sample is calculated which becomes the job prestige score. Physicians have the highest score (86) while shoe shines have the lowest (14). (More proof of a racist America). People are assigning teachers a much higher score than you would predict from their educational level. The reason is obvious: Americans put teachers on a pedestal. CW makes a point about pay, but my post is about a so-called lack of status.

  4. And also:

    I've also seen data somewhere that the average IQ of US teachers at graduate school is a little below 100 - so school teaching is a pretty reliable way for someone of modest intelligence to make money and get prestige.

  5. Shoe shines? Below garbagemen?

  6. Yes, income predicts prestige.

  7. Why Men Earn More by Warren Farrell gives a few interesting outliers where the pay is above prestige because the job needs to be done, but people won't do it (often precisely because it is low status) unless they are paid a premium: prison guard, for example - who I believe are paid above their education and status level...

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