Study Snapshot: The Female Educator Tax: Documenting the Gendered Wage Gap in Public Education

For Immediate Release: April 17, 2018

Tony Pals,
(202) 238-3235, (202) 288-9333 (cell)

Collin Boylin,
(202) 238-3233, (860) 490-8326 (cell)

Study Snapshot: The Female Educator Tax: Documenting the Gendered Wage Gap in Public Education

Study: “The Female Educator Tax: Documenting the Gendered Wage Gap in Public Education”
Authors: James Sadler (University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill), James Samuel Carter III (University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill)

This study will be presented at the 2018 AERA Annual Meeting 

Date/Time: Tuesday, April 17, 8:15 a.m. to 9:45 a.m.

Main Finding:

  • Female teachers and school leaders in Pennsylvania earn significantly less financial compensation than their male counterparts, even when accounting for education, experience, school district context, and assignment. Surprisingly, gender wage gaps do not appear for district leaders. 


  • Using a dataset of 124,000 individuals from Pennsylvania public schools, the authors analyzed salary trends for teachers, school leaders (principals and assistant principals), and district leaders (superintendents and assistant superintendents) while controlling for characteristics such as experience and education. The data come from the 2016–17 Professional Personal Individual Staff Report issued by the Pennsylvania Department of Education.
  • The study is one of the first to show quantitative evidence of a systematic gendered wage gap among K–12 educators in the United States, specifically among teachers and school leaders. Surprisingly, wage gaps did not appear for district leaders.
  • The authors’ initial findings indicate that being female decreases the expected annual salary of an educator by $778. For teachers, being female decreases the expected annual salary by $665. For principals, being female decreases the expected annual salary by $2,131. While the authors found a $3,262 wage gap in favor of males for superintendents, the result was not statistically significant.
  • The authors note that because school boards usually determine superintendent salaries, the potential for gendered bias is high; thus, the finding of no wage gap is encouraging.
  •  “For teachers and school leaders, the evidence tells a troubling story,” said study co-author James Sadler, a doctoral student in the School of Education at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. “Women are earning less than their male counterparts even though salary schedules are largely determined by education level and experience, which we accounted for in the study.”
  • The authors note that some districts in Pennsylvania pay teachers based on performance ratings. They say that it is possible that men consistently score higher on those ratings due to objectively better performance or, more likely, implicit or explicit bias based on gender.
  • In an additional analysis, the authors compared gender-based teacher wage gaps between the Philadelphia and Pittsburgh public school districts. Philadelphia uses a traditional salary schedule based on experience and education. In Pittsburgh, teachers hired after July 2010 were under a performance-pay-based salary schedule until August 2017, when the district reverted their salaries to a traditional schedule.
  • The authors found no evidence of a gendered wage gap in Philadelphia; however, they did find evidence of an association between Pittsburgh’s performance pay system and gender-based wage gaps.
  • The authors note that differences in merit pay policies are unlikely to explain the entire gendered wage gap, which is likely derived from a more systematic structural condition of education that benefits men over women.
  • For example, women may be financially punished for taking more time off to take care of family, especially after childbirth. Alternatively, opportunities at school that provide salary increases, such as sports coaching or club organizing, may benefit men more than women for reasons not yet explained.
  • “The salary gaps we found are large enough to affect quality of life, especially after considering cumulative effects over time,” said co-author James Samuel Carter III, a doctoral student in the School of Education at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. “Understanding the mechanisms behind this gap is critical for improving structural systems that place barriers on women to earn more money and advance their careers.”
  • Women made up 73.1 percent of the teacher workforce in the sample, while men made up 56.2 percent of school principals and assistant principals. Men made up 64.8 percent of district leaders. 

  • Nationally, 76 percent of all public school teachers were female as of the 2011–12 school year, according the U.S. Department of Education. In the same school year, 52 percent of U.S. school principals were women. Only 24 percent of public school superintendents were women.

To request a copy of the full paper, or to talk to study authors, please contact AERA Communications: Tony Pals, Director of Communications,, cell: (202) 288-9333; Collin Boylin, Communications Associate,, cell: (860) 490-8326

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The American Educational Research Association (AERA) is the largest national interdisciplinary research association devoted to the scientific study of education and learning. Founded in 1916, AERA advances knowledge about education, encourages scholarly inquiry related to education, and promotes the use of research to improve education and serve the public good. Find AERA on FacebookTwitter, and Instagram.