The study of teachers and teaching has always been an important focus of sociology of education, but the analysis of links between teaching and gender has developed more recently. As Grant and Murray (1999) contend, K-12 teaching and postsecondary teaching are two different occupations and thus relationships between gender and teaching differ at each level. Other researchers have studied gender as it affects pedagogy and curriculum at all levels of schooling. Finally, some scholars, especially those working from a feminist perspective, have explored what students learn about gender in schooling, and how teachers – intentionally or not – affect the gender climates of educational institutions.
Gender Distributions in The Teaching Profession
Teaching is a classic example of an occupation that feminized. Today, about 75 percent of teachers in grades K 12 in the US are women. Similarly, in 11 of 20 OECD countries, women make up 70 percent or more of elementary teachers. Preschool teaching is also strongly woman dominated, with precise proportions hard to tabulate because few states license preschool teachers.
Women gained access to teaching in the late 1800s. Not until the 1920s in the US, and not until 1995 in OECD countries, did women represent 70 percent or more of teachers. The feminization of teaching occurred in part because with the growth of the middle class and formalization of schooling, teaching became a full time job. However, pay did not rise along with increased time demands. Thus, men left teaching in the US and internationally for better higher paying occupations, creating open positions that were relatively attractive for women.
As women entered the profession, the definition, role, and expectation for teachers’ work changed. Contracts required that teachers be single women, and teaching was viewed as preparation for motherhood. Teachers’ work was nevertheless controlled by male only school boards and administrators. As in other feminized occupations, women grew in numbers, but not in pay, power, or autonomy. More recently, pay and autonomy have increased, but pay remains low (Ingersoll 2001). In fact, as the rate of feminization increases in OECD countries, teacher salary seems to decrease.
Teaching became an avenue for upward mobility for farm and working class families and for black and white men and women. By the 1930s, however, most US teachers were middle class white women. Teaching in segregated schools was an important means of upward class mobility for African Americans. Under segregation, educated blacks’ access to positions as teachers and administrators helped to establish a black middle class. When the Brown v. Board of Edu cation decision ended legally mandated school segregation, many black educators lost their jobs, even when they were more qualified than their white counterparts. Blacks now make up less than 8 percent of public school teachers, although about 17 percent of students are black. Black middle class women, and other educated minority youth, nowadays seek more lucrative careers.
At the postsecondary level, teaching remains a white male dominated profession. Women and persons of color have made only modest inroads into professor positions in recent decades in the US and in most other countries. Before the mid-1900s, white women in the US comprised only a small fraction of college faculty, concentrated primarily at women’s colleges or in feminized disciplines such as home economics, education, or social work in coeducational institutions. Women’s enrollments in PhD programs expanded dramatically in the late 1970s, and affirmative action policies adopted by colleges aided their entry into college teaching. By 2004, women were about one third of postsecondary faculty in the US, up from about 23 percent in 1974. In research intensive universities, women are only about 14 percent of full professors, but nearly 60 percent of lecturers and instructors (AAUP 2004). Women, however, are better represented across ranks at Historical Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) than in colleges generally (NCES 2004).
The heavily feminized occupation of preschool teaching is poorly paid, averaging lower hourly wages than bus drivers, secretaries, and practical nurses (Whitebook & Sakai 2004). K 12 teachers also earn relatively low wages, with women averaging only 90 percent of men’s wages in 2000. In countries such as Japan and Turkey, where men are more numerous in the teaching ranks, teachers’ salaries compare more favorably to the country’s cost of living index than is the case in the US.
Several explanations have been offered about the gender gap in teachers’ pay. One is the gen der segregated composition of teaching staffs, with women more dominant in elementary grades where pay is low and men more numerous in secondary grades and administrative posts where wages are higher. Men are about three times more numerous among high school as among elementary teachers.
In addition, segregation in types of position within the hierarchy of teaching by gender also occurs (Cognard Black 2004). Men who enter teaching rise rapidly in status and often are tracked into administrative positions. In the US about 56 percent of principals are men, and male principals average three more years’ experience than women counterparts. This contrasts sharply with the disadvantages to advancement that women often face in male dominated occupations, such as postsecondary teaching.
Gender differences in credentials also account for some of the pay gap. Male teachers are more likely to have advanced degrees, and they average more years of teaching experience than women. In addition, men are more likely to teach in unionized systems, and unions have been successful in raising teacher pay.
Women professors are more poorly paid than their men counterparts in US colleges and universities, with pay gaps even wider than at the K 12 level. In recent years women full professors have lost ground compared with men of similar ranks (AAUP 2004), but at lower ranks they have gained slightly, mostly as a result of wage stagnation for men. Among full professors, women’s average salaries are 12 percent lower than men’s. HBCUs show a different pattern. Although overall salaries at these institutions average only about 80 percent of college salaries generally, women and men of similar rank are closer to parity (NCES 2004).
Salary gaps reflect in part women’s more recent entry into college teaching and consequent lesser seniority and their concentration into lower paid academic fields. Men have longer records of uninterrupted service and are in types of institutions with higher pay; for example, research universities rather than community colleges. Men also outnumber women in administrative positions. Women faculty are ghettoized into lower paid fields (e.g., English, foreign languages, or education rather than math, science, business, or law) (NSF 2004). Higher pay for the male dominated fields usually is justified by arguments that faculty in these disciplines have attractive job opportunities outside of academia. Nevertheless, with controls for rank, degree year, quality of degree, and employer type, margins of difference favor men (AAUP 2004).
Research has been inconsistent about whether men scholars have been more successful than women in publication and grant productivity, a major basis of salary awards in higher education. Earlier studies concentrated largely on natural scientists found productivity gaps favoring men, but more recent works suggest a convergence of publication and tenure rates, of women and men in fields such as sociology where women are not tokens (Hargens & Long 2002).
A comprehensive study of faculty shed light on subtle processes leading to gender inequities (MIT 1999). Women faculty recognized the negative impact of the gender climate on their careers and wellbeing, but felt that complaints would be fruitless. Women faculty were underpaid relative to comparable men and systematically dis advantaged in areas such as teaching loads, assignment of laboratory and office space, access to mentoring and support, and sponsorship for awards and other special opportunities. Women faculty believed they did more mentoring than their male colleagues. Many had experienced sexual harassment, and women believed they would be seriously penalized for having a child or otherwise investing heavily in family.
Gender and Pedagogy
Few differences in teachers’ pedagogical style by gender appear at either the K 12 or the postsecondary level. Where differences exist, they reflect the differential distributions of women and men across elementary and secondary teaching and their locations in different academic specialties using variable pedagogical approaches. Nevertheless, widespread concern that too few men are entering teaching and that male students in public schools in particular lack male role models has resulted in special programs to recruit men, especially men of color, into teaching. Gender differences in pedagogical style at the postsecondary level are more apparent in pat terns of out of class mentoring and support than in classroom performance.
Curriculum and Gender Climates
Studies have explored what is taught in schools about gender, in the formal curriculum and the informal, or hidden, curriculum. Reports by American Association of University Women (AAUW 1992-2004) explore ways in which curriculum and gender climates of educational institutions can marginalize women. The reports critique formal curriculum for excluding or trivializing girls and women and for not addressing issues of particular significance to women’s lives; for example, pay equity law, family leave policies, or women’s health. Staffing patterns in public schools usually place men in positions of authority over women, modeling patriarchal systems for young learners. Furthermore, teachers do not necessarily create, but often tolerate, gender cli mates that are hostile to girls and women. The AAUW report has drawn criticism for failing to fully consider educational problems of boys and for blaming teachers for gender inequities that they have little power to influence. In many systems, teachers have proactively addressed gender equity issues via efforts to create gender equitable curricula and educational climates.
At the postsecondary level, studies of gender and teaching focus on whether women students face chilly climates in college classrooms, especially in male dominated fields such as math and science, and whether they have adequate opportunities for mentoring and sponsorship. Scholars have also explored harassment and other forms of sexual exploitation as they affect women faculty and students. Finally, a growing body of scholarship has examined whether or not women’s scholarship is valued as much as men’s in making hiring, tenure, promotion, and salary decisions in colleges and universities.
The impact of gender scholarship and feminist thought has been uneven across disciplines. Nevertheless, substantial change in the influence of women is evidenced by the rapid growth of women’s and gender studies curricula, departments, and majors. Academic disciplines now include committees to monitor status of women, organizations of women scholars, and publication outlets for gender research. In sociology, the Sociologists for Women in Society and its affiliated journal, Gender and Society, are examples.
Gender affects teaching careers and advantages for men persist at all levels of education. Yet we know little about why gender inequities persist in teaching, why men are reluctant to enter teaching (despite salary advantages), and why recruitment and retention of teachers of both genders is increasingly problematic. Possible links between these concerns and the feminization of teaching, its semi-professional status, and the professionalization of the field have not been explored in theoretically sophisticated ways. At the postsecondary level, teaching may be threatened with deprofessionalization, just at a point when women comprise a significant presence.
Although studies in local contexts have established the importance of formal and informal curricula and gender climates for teachers and for students, these issues are rarely researched in national studies. We know more about the content of curricula and the characteristics of gender climates of educational institutions than about the long range impact on teachers and students. We lack a finely nuanced understanding of the role of teachers and educational institutions in reproducing or challenging gender stratification in society.
At the postsecondary level questions remain about how structural changes in colleges and universities will affect the status of women faculty and gender inclusive scholarship. Women’s pro portions of college enrollments at all levels continue to increase, and women are likely to make up larger shares of college teachers in the future. As colleges rely more heavily on part time, contingent workforces, men are leaving academia, and this trend is partly responsible for increasing proportions of women faculty in many disciplines. The implications of these changes are not yet clear.
- American Association of University Professors (AAUP) (2004) Online.https://www.aaup.org/.
- Association of American University Women (AAUW) (1992) How Schools Shortchange Girls: The AAUW Report. AAUW Educational Foundation, Washington, DC.
- Association of American University Women (AAUW) (2004) Online. https://www.aauw.org/.
- Benjamin, E. (2004) Disparities in the Salaries and Appointments of Academic Women and Men: An Update of a 1988 Report of Committee W on the Status of Women in the Academic Profession. AAUP, Washington, DC.
- Cognard-Black, A. J. (2004) Will They Stay, or Will They Go? Sex-Atypical Work Among Token Men Who Teach. Sociological Quarterly 45 (1): 113-39.
- Grant, G. & Murray, C. E. (1999) Teaching in America: The Slow Revolution. Harvard University Press, Cambridge, MA.
- Hargens, L. H. & Long, J. S. (2002) Demographic Inertia and Women’s Representation among Faculty in Higher Education. Journal of Higher Education 73 (4): 494-517.
- Ingersoll, R. M. (2001) Teacher Turnover and Teacher Shortages: An Organizational Analysis. American Educational Research Journal 38 (3): 499-534.
- MIT Report (1999) A Study on the Status of Women Faculty in Science at MIT. MIT Faculty Newsletter: Special Edition 11 (4). Online. http://web.mit.edu/fnl/women/women.html.
- National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) (2004) Online.National Science Foundation (NSF) (2004) Online. https://www.nsf.gov/.
- OECD (2004) Education at a Glance: OECD Indicators 2002. Online. https://www.oecd-ilibrary.org/education/education-at-a-glance-2002_eag-2002-en.
- Whitebook, M. & Sakai, L. (2004) By a Thread: How Child Care Centers Hold On to Teachers, How Teachers Build Lasting Careers. Upjohn Institute, Kalamazoo, MI.