Why Are Teachers So Rich?

The New York Times has an infographic with the title “The Top 1 Percent: What Jobs Do They Have?” It looks like this:

The fascinating part is how many elementary & high schools teachers are in the top 1%: 59,362.

Half-Sigma interprets this as implying that teachers marry into money. I think something like this is close to the truth: teaching is a “polite” profession where workers are basically unaccountable and output is essentially unmeasurable. If the wife of a one-percenter wishes to work, but wishes to work in a place where she she does not have to sully herself with competition, results, or measurable contributions, teaching is a fine profession. And because many Americans mortgage themselves into the most expensive school district they can afford, human cognitive biases will make teachers’ neighbors think they are doing a good job! (After all, if you mortgaged yourself into a bad school district, that implies you’re a pretty bad parent.)

7 thoughts on “Why Are Teachers So Rich?”

  1. More than 99% of teachers are not rich. In fact, in terms of percentage in the 1%, retail sales clerks are better represented than teachers.

  2. Hey Tyler,

    Thanks for the awesome comment.

    There’s far fewer retail sales clerks than teachers in the top 1%, which is kind of odd — retail sales is presumably commissions based, and it would be reasonable to expect the best to gravitate to where they can do the most good for the employer.

    Teaching, however, is a relatively low-paid profession. Indeed, the pay is so low relative to the past that the teaching profession has been lobotomized. [1] Hence the mystery: how can a low-paid profession have so many one-percenters?

    The answer, I think, is that teaching is a polite profession where the wifer of a one-percenter can do “good” without having to worry about being corrected for poor performance.


  3. I think one of us may be misinterpreting this figure-chart-table. The way I understand it is that very few (0.9%; 59,362/6,800,000) elementary and secondary school teachers are in the “1%.”

    You said, “Hence the mystery: how can a low-paid profession have so many one-percenters?”

    To me, 0.9% is not very many one-percenters. Is your point that ANY amount, even if it is .9%, of teachers in the “1%” is a lot?

    And I guess in an absolute sense, 59,000 teachers in the 1% is a fair amount. Perhaps the most parsimonious hypothesis would be that those 59,000 had money before they started their career. An explanation involving being a wife (or husband) of a one percenter may not be necessary.


  4. Okay, so I just read the figure caption more closely. It explains that teachers become the 1% primarily through marriage. I wonder if they actually collected information on this point or if it’s speculation. My guess is it’s the latter.

  5. Yeah, the legend is a bit confusing. :-)

    The New York Times uses top 1% of income, not wealth. From the legend:

    “an overall income in the top 1 percent nationwide”

    IIRC this amounts to a household yearly income of ~$350k/yr.

  6. The NYT article clearly states, “School teachers don’t earn enough to make the top 1 percent on their own, but many live in 1-percent households, primarily through marriage.”

    [The remainder of this comment has been removed due to an ad hominem remark. -- tdaxp]

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