Teachers serve a vital role, as they act as mentors, experts and role models for future generations. They are able to influence and shape the attitudes, the values and the behaviors of young children, as well as to help them further understand how the society works nowadays.
Now, it is interesting to consider what we are thinking when hearing the word “teacher”. Many of us may visualize someone with a big, kind smile who is generous and understanding. In addition to that, it is more like to picture a woman!
It is rather evident that teaching is a highly gendered profession. Women making up over two-thirds of the teachers from pre-primary to tertiary education on average across OECD countries (EUROSTAT, 2021).
Since our focus is on gender inequalities in the field of education, in this topic we are going to study the composition of the teaching population according to gender.
The teaching profession does not reflect the diversity in society and the global proportion of women teachers varies from regional to country levels. Females are over-represented in pre-primary, primary, and secondary sectors in Europe and Northern America, Latin America and the Caribbean, and Central Asia.
By contrast, female teachers are under-represented in primary and secondary education in low-income countries in Africa and in school leadership positions. In contrast, men are under-represented in the lower grades in higher-income countries, while they are more likely to hold leadership roles.
Currently, there are almost 5.2 million teachers in the European Union (EU), and women make up 72% of them. The average share of female teachers in the OECD increased from 61% in 2005 to 65% in 2010 and 68% in 2014. For this reason, we are talking about a gradual “feminization” of the teaching profession.
On average across OECD countries, women form less than half the teaching workforce at the tertiary level, but the majority of teachers at primary and secondary levels. Within the tertiary education the division of female teachers is higher in short-cycle tertiary programmes than in bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral programmes.
Of all the teaching population, only a small percentage of teaching staff seems to be under the age of 30, while a significant ratio of teachers, almost 40%, seem to be over the age of 50 years-old (EUROSTAT, 2020).
More than half of teachers is 50 years-old or above in Italy (54%) and Lithuania (52%). Meanwhile, 1% of teachers in the EU were over 65 years of age in 2018. The highest share of teachers in this age group were reported in Estonia (8%), Latvia (5%), Sweden and Denmark (both 4%).
Countries such as France, Germany, Ireland, Luxembourg, the United Kingdom and the United States, exhibit the opposite trend, and their teaching workforce has grown younger.
The United Kingdom, which has seen the largest reduction in the share of older teachers, launched an ambitious recruitment campaign in the early 2000s, aiming at improving the status of the teaching profession and to appeal to youth who were considering teaching as an option but were put off by several barriers, including the financial burden of the training.
It is thought that as age increases, teachers lose the enthusiasm to teach. Contrastingly it is also thought that age is an asset, as older teachers are more experienced. Additionally, it is considered that older teachers are more likely to reproduce gender stereotypes within the classroom, as they become more conservative as they age.