Why are teachers paid so little when athletes make so much?

Teachers see us, sometimes, more than our own parents when we’re growing up. Day in, and day out, they get up at the crack of dawn, and begin arranging their classrooms, preparing for standardized testing, and writing lesson plans. This also includes administrative and teachers’ meetings. Then they teach for 8 hours or more. This is the part we see. But their work doesn’t end there. In the afternoons, some teachers work to help with extracurricular activities. Then stay late into the evening working too, returning emails, doing administrative tasks, and dealing with sometimes difficult children, and sometimes even more difficult parents. And their nights at home and weekends are consumed with grading papers, and preparing for the next day’s lesson.

I’ve never met a teacher who wasn’t completely overworked.

So why do we pay teachers so poorly, but athletes make so much?

Well, let’s dive into some data.

How much do teachers really make compared to athletes?


Teachers make a median salary of (except special education) of $51,640. All occupations in the US economy make a median income of $36,200. But what does “all occupations” mean? Does that include part time workers or only full time workers? I couldn’t find that information anywhere, but I assume it means part time as well as full time because when I looked up the median income in the US, meaning, (how much the largest amount of people are making), working full time median income in the US is $51,939. (Source)

How can that be? If this were the case, teachers would be making pretty close to the US median. Well, they are. Myth busted. In the US, that’s a solid middle class salary. BUT the BLS statistics don’t include real numbers of hours worked versus actual salary received.

Maybe we can find the answer if we look to the actual number of hours teachers put into the job per week.

In a Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation survey, teachers were polled on the number of hours they work daily. The average was 10 hours and 40 minutes a day. That’s 53 hours a week. If that’s the case, that means teachers’ real wages are $18.74/hour or, approximately $39,000/year. Because teachers are only paid for the times they are at school, not hourly, the salary appears higher than it actually is. The number of hours worked lowers the salary.

Some might say this measure is cheating the system. I actually find it to be more accurate. If you work more hours for the same salary, it makes sense to me that that should be included data in what your real salary is.

Job growth for teachers is approximately 6%. The median amount of job growth across all occupations in the country is 6.5%. This means that the job growth is just keeping up with the growing population. (Source)

And now we have our second answer, possibly the bigger answer.

Supply and demand. There are more teachers in the economy than are needed in the workforce. Sorry, but this is what the data says.



How does that work? 

Using the graph above for reference, allow me to use an example. Say I’m a receptionist. In this make believe economy, there are 215 available labor hours for receptionists in the economy needed by employers. Some employers are willing to pay a little more for better workers, some employers are willing to pay a little less, maybe they can only afford that, or maybe they think that’s what receptionists should be paid and they don’t really care about attracting the best workers, they just want the job done. After a while, an equilibrium will be reached. The average wage settles around $15/hour because that’s as little as receptionists are willing to work for, and employers are willing to pay. If employers offered $14/hour, I wouldn’t go work for them when I know other employers are going to pay $15/hour. That $14/hour employer has less of a good labor pool to choose from. This employer has a labor shortage. But say there’s an employer willing to pay $16/hour. There are more applications coming in for that job, and that employer gets to have his pick of the litter. This employer has a labor surplus.

The average, the standard for receptionists, settles to $15/hour per 215 billion labor hours available. This equilibrium, in this perfect, theoretical economy, means all the employers who want receptionists have them, and all the people wanting to be receptionists have jobs. The job growth keeps up with the population and economic growth.

On a macro level, if we generalize this to teachers, if teachers were overpaid, there would be more demand to become a teacher and less jobs to go around for the number of people who want to be teachers. This would cause the wage to go down for teachers until it reaches the equilibrium. Schools could pay their teachers less, the more teachers are knocking down their doors to becoming teachers.

The opposite would be a labor shortage. If there were too many seats available to become teachers, and not enough teachers applying or going to school to become teachers, schools would raise their offered salaries. This is because it causes a greater likelihood that people will apply to become teachers or go to school to become teachers, knowing there’s more money in it. Wouldn’t you rather take a job that paid more than a job that paid less?

I do have some good news, though. I have a hypothesis that teachers will get paid more in the future. I predict a teacher shortage as more and more baby boomers retire. This is because the majority of teachers, 39.4% have worked over 15 years, on average. This, combined with fertility rates stabilizing in the US, will most likely create a lot of open seats as far as opportunities for teachers looking to enter the workforce, causing the wage to go up in order to attract more workers.

The baby boomers retiring is going to change the population in the US that are contributing to social security, taking social security, and the availability of jobs. Especially in 2025, when the height of the baby boom will reach the age of 65. In 2010, we saw our first spike in the number of retirees, who turned 65 that year since the first spike in population during WWII.



What about athletes? Why do they make so much more than teachers?

Well, they actually don’t. In fact, they make less.


Compare this with the median salary a teacher makes of $51,640. It is about $6,000 less than teachers make. Another busted myth.

However, athletes see the same job growth rate as teachers, 6%. (Source) Also, only 1 in 3,000 high school athletes make it into the professional industry.

What about star athletes?

This combined with the physical demands of the job, cause the highest paid workers, major league professionals to be paid higher. They have a unique, highly specialized skills that allows them to be more in demand, and higher paid as a result.

Careers are also cut short, the average athlete only being in commission for a few years before injury takes them out of the industry, or retirement.

The number of jobs in athletics was only 13,700 versus 1,517,400 for teachers.

Another reason teachers are paid more than athletes on average, is because being an athlete doesn’t require a degree at all, while teachers require at least a bachelor’s degree in order to get a job in teaching.

Cool general information.

Fastest growing occupations



Fastest declining jobs


Highest paid occupations


Lowest paid occupations


If you notice, the lowest paid jobs require the least education, and the highest paid occupations require much more education and have the most highly specialized work.

Top paid occupations

  1. Physicians
  2. Surgeons
  3. Oral and maxillofacial surgeons
  4. Internists
  5. Obstetricians and gynecologists

Lowest paid occupations

  1. Food preparation and serving workers
  2. Shampooers
  3. Cooks in fast food
  4. Dishwashers
  5. Dining room and cafeteria attendants, and bartender helpers

Should the physicians make less than food preparation and serving workers? Both are certainly hard work. But this is more of a moral question than a scientific one.

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