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New Study Finds What Drives Wage Gaps Among Early Educators in Massachusetts

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A new study found that teachers’ educational attainment and current teaching positions explained wage gaps among a statewide representative sample of ECE center educators in Massachusetts. The study also found that center educators who self-identified as Black earned higher hourly wages than their White, Hispanic/Latinx, and other-race counterparts with similar characteristics. Hispanic/Latinx educators earned wages comparable with their White counterparts.

“Teachers with a bachelor’s or higher degrees earned higher wages than those with lower educational attainment, and being a lead teacher instead of an assistant teacher was also associated with higher wages,” said study author Anne Douglass, PhD, Professor of Early Care and Education at UMass Boston and the founding executive director of the Institute for Early Education Leadership and Innovation. “The strong association between educational attainment and hourly wages underscores the importance of implementing intentional strategies to create equitable opportunities for pursuing higher education degrees for all early educators.”

The findings that Black educators earned higher wages and that Hispanic/Latinx educators earned comparable wages to White educators were unexpected. But Black educators in this study were more likely to work in centers that were sponsored by another organization or part of a larger franchise or chain than teachers in other racial/ethnic groups. The authors pointed out that those centers tend to have a more stable funding mechanism than independent and stand-alone centers, and speculated unobserved characteristics of these centers might have accounted for Black educators’ higher wages. The racial breakdown of the study sample closely mirrors the state’s workforce demographics, with 65.7% (215) identifying as non-Hispanic White, 13.5% (44) identifying as Hispanic/Latinx, 11.3% (37) identifying as non-Hispanic Black, and 9.5% (31) identifying as other races, which mostly consisted of educators who identify with more than one racial affiliation.

“Prior studies have shown that the wages of early educators reflect racial inequality that is woven throughout U.S. institutions and culture. Further study is needed to uncover contexts reinforcing racial and ethnic disparities in earnings and opportunities among early educators,” said Yujin Lee, lead study author and doctoral candidate and research assistant at the Institute for Early Education Leadership and Innovation. “In this study, we examined the age of children as a potential context associated with racial wage disparities, but no association was found for any of racial and ethnic groups. Our study findings call for further research to better understand characteristics of ECE settings, work environment, and organizational conditions that could mitigate racial and ethnic wage disparities.”

The study, titled “Racial and Ethnic Wage Disparities Among Center-Based Early Educators,” was published in the Early Childhood Education Journal in February 2022. This study drew data from the ECE workforce survey in 2019, which was conducted to document the demographic characteristics, educational attainment, professional development opportunities, working conditions, compensation, and benefits among early educators in Massachusetts. The study sample consisted of 327 educators working in centers caring for children from birth to age five.

“Racial and Ethnic Wage Disparities Among Center-Based Early Educators,” was designed and authored by researchers at the Institute for Early Education Leadership and Innovation at UMass Boston and is available online.

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