Teacher pay in early childhood education

Some readers have brought to my attention a recent study of how typical annual earnings vary with college major. This study, by Anthony Carnevale, Jeff Strohl, and Michelle Melton at Georgetown University, relies on 2009 data from the American Community Survey.

What has received some attention in the early childhood community are the study’s findings for early childhood education majors. The study found that median annual earnings of B.A. graduates with a major in early childhood education were $36,000 (e.g., half made less than $36,000, and half made more). This was second lowest among the 171 occupations that were considered.

What needs to be pointed out is that this study significantly UNDERESTIMATES the low earnings problem of the early childhood profession. For example, from this same study, students with a major in elementary education have a median annual salary of $40,000. Therefore, from this study, majors in early childhood education end up with median earnings only about 10% less than majors in elementary education.

However, the Georgetown study only includes individuals with a bachelor’s degree.  The salaries of this group with greater academic credentials tend to be greater than the salaries of other early childhood teachers.

I looked at May 2010 data from the Occupational Employment Statistics of the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. (Specifically, I looked at the National Cross-Industry Estimates.) These data, unlike the Georgetown data, includes all individuals in a given occupation. The Georgetown data only looks at individuals with a bachelor’s degree and a particular major. The Georgetown data also includes individuals with a major who end up working in an occupation that is not associated with that major. The OES data are derived from surveys of employers.

Based on the OES data, median annual salaries of preschool teachers were $25,700. In contrast, median annual salaries of elementary school teachers were $51,660, over twice as much.

Even at the 75th percentile of the distribution of preschool teachers’ salaries, earnings were only $34,420.  What this means is that 75% of all preschool teachers earned less than $34,420. At the 90th percentile, preschool teacher salaries were $46,830, meaning that only 10% of preschool teachers made $46,830 or more. But the 90th percentile preschool teacher still makes less than the median elementary school teacher.

With such low salaries, it is hard for preschool teaching as an occupation to be competitive with other alternative choices for prospective preschool teachers, such as elementary education.

Higher preschool teacher salaries may not guarantee higher preschool teacher quality. But it seems likely that higher preschool teacher salaries are a necessary condition for improving preschool teacher quality.

About timbartik

Tim Bartik is a senior economist at the Upjohn Institute for Employment Research, a non-profit and non-partisan research organization in Kalamazoo, Michigan. His research specializes in state and local economic development policies and local labor markets.
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