In the United States, gender segregation in the workplace, across all careers, has seen a significant decline since the 1970s. Careers that were once wholly male almost all see at least a 15-percent female presence, and the same is true of the reverse. Except, strangely, in the case of teachers.
Before the 1850s, teaching in the U.S. was almost a purely male profession. Then the public school system was formed, and within a generation women accounted for 63 percent of all teachers (with men being concentrated at the high-school and college levels). By the 1900s, teaching children was considered a “naturally” feminine career choice, and was one of the few professional careers open to women.
In the decades since, the gender ratio of teachers has swayed back and forth. The world wars saw an almost complete disappearance of male teachers. The 1980s saw a 30-percent jump in men in the classroom.
But since the beginning of the 21st century, a time when one might expect the numbers to be equalizing, they’re doing just the opposite. Studies have shown that the ratio is currently around 3:1 in favor of women; the teacher gender gap is just the reverse of many other professions.
The total population of teachers has grown hugely since the ’80s as well, nearly doubling. While the total number of men in the profession has risen, it hasn’t risen as much as has the total number of women.
One theory for this segregation is a simple consequence of the increased number of women working today, versus in 1980. More women in the work force means more women seeking historically female jobs, which means more women in teaching.
Another theory is the increasing devaluation of teachers. Devalued professions tend to be full of women, and it’s true that teaching has continued its slide down in the esteem of the public. This might be supported by the breakdown of where women are teaching. For instance, 9 out of 10 elementary-school teachers are women, versus 6 out of 10 of high school teachers, half of college faculty, and 40 percent of tenured professors.
Overall, it seems that the more highly paid and valued a teaching position is, the more likely it is that there is a man holding it. It’s unfortunately natural, then, that the teacher gender gap in favor of women is increasing, particularly at the elementary and high school levels.