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Female Jewish Educators Earn Less Than Male Colleagues, New Study Says

September 8, 1999
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The field of Jewish education is not known for stellar salaries.

Those salaries are even less stellar for women, says a report released in the latest issue of Jewish Education News, a quarterly publication of the Coalition for the Advancement of Jewish Education.

The report, based on a larger Council for Initiatives in Jewish Education study of Jewish educators in Atlanta, Baltimore and Milwaukee, finds that even when differences in hours worked and years of formal training are accounted for, female teachers earn significantly less money and receive fewer benefits than their male colleagues.

For example, among full-time teachers, 76 percent of men earn over $30,000, the highest bracket cited in the study, while only 9 percent of women fall in that category.

The study comes as Jewish education becomes more central to the Jewish agenda and institutions are struggling to find ways to recruit educators.

The majority of Jewish educators — some 84 percent — are women, although in Orthodox day schools women comprise only 55 percent of the faculty.

Salary differences were more pronounced in day schools than in supplemental schools, said the report, but “a more subtle gender difference occurs in supplementary schools” where formal training in education pedagogy — possessed by more of the female than male educators — does not lead to greater compensation.

In contrast, male educators generally have stronger backgrounds in Judaic studies, said the report. Almost 60 percent of female educators have formal training in education, whereas slightly over one-quarter have formal training in Jewish studies. For male educators, the numbers are roughly reversed.

The wage gap is aggravated by the fact that women dominate the lower-paid levels of Jewish education, such as early childhood, whereas men cluster in the more lucrative secondary schools.

In a phone interview, Adam Gamoran, a professor of sociology and educational policy studies at the University of Wisconsin and one of the authors of the study, attributed the wage differences less to overt sexism and more to subtle forms of discrimination.

“It’s not that the given principal of a given school is sexist, but we live in a society where circumstances are more favorable to men,” he said. “In a lot of circumstances, it’s assumed that when men are working they’re the family breadwinners and with women that they’re bringing in a second income.”

In addition to the wage and background differentials, the study found several other key differences between male and female Jewish educators.

Women are more likely than men to work part-time, and are less likely to describe their work as a “career.” Women and men also report different reasons for entering the field.

“Men tended to view their decision as one that would provide them with the opportunity to learn continually and teach about Judaism,” notes the study.

“In contrast, women viewed their choice of entering into Jewish education as an opportunity to teach children,” it says.

But once in the field, both men and women stay in Jewish education “for a considerable length of time” and “overwhelmingly plan to stay.”

Although male educators are far more likely than their female colleagues to be Orthodox, there are few other differences in demographic makeup. The mean age of both male and female educators is 38, roughly the same amount of males and females are single (13 percent of women, 14 percent of men), and the overwhelming majority of both men and women teachers are American-born.

The report concludes that “Jewish education is not immune to the conditions permitting gender discrimination in the secular world.”

However, Gamoran said he did not know how the gap in Jewish education compares to that in secular education.

The study was co-authored by Council for Initiatives staff researcher Bill Robinson and Vanderbilt University education professor Ellen Goldring.

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