Early Education Leaders, an Institute at UMass Boston

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Research Summary: Study finds that teachers’ higher educational attainment correlates with higher wages

In “Racial and Ethnic Wage Disparities Among Center-Based Early Educators,” UMass Boston researchers found that early educators’ educational attainment and current teaching positions explained wage differences among a statewide representative sample of early care and education (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/Latina/Latino, and other-race counterparts with similar characteristics. Hispanic/Latina/Latino educators earned wages comparable with their White counterparts. These findings add important new knowledge to the scholarship on wage disparities within ECE and suggest that further research is warranted to better understand the characteristics of ECE settings, work environment, and organizational and policy conditions that could eliminate racial and ethnic wage disparities. 


ECE educators are one of the lowest-paid occupations in the United States. The literature on income inequality suggests that ECE educators’ low pay and unequal wages are due to systematic barriers and deep-rooted biases toward work labeled feminine and labor performed by women, especially women of color. In the United States, the ECE workforce is comprised almost entirely of women, and about 40 percent are Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC). Women-dominated, minority-dominated, and care-related occupations have been historically undervalued and underpaid. Despite the significant contribution made by racial and ethnic minority educators to the ECE field, their wages have been found to reflect and perpetuate racial and ethnic wage disparities within the ECE workforce itself. Additionally, racial inequities woven throughout U.S. institutions and culture are known to cause even greater harm to ECE educators from racial and ethnic minority backgrounds. 


This study drew data from a larger study “The Massachusetts Early Education and Care Workforce Survey 2019,” which was conducted to document the demographic characteristics, educational attainment, professional development opportunities, working conditions, compensation, and benefits across ECE educators and administrators in a northeastern state. This new paper used a subset of that study’s data. Data used in this new paper consisted of a representative sample of 327 center educators, with 65.7% (215) identifying as non-Hispanic White, 13.5% (44) identifying as Hispanic/Latina/Latino, 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. The mean age of the sample was 32.74 years old, and 97% were female. Approximately one-sixth (16.8%) reported that they were born outside of the U.S.; 37.6% were working with the youngest children—infants and toddlers, and the rest of the sample (62.4%) worked with preschool-aged children. A majority (68.7%) were lead teachers, whereas 31.3% were assistant teachers. Regarding teachers’ education attainment, 18.1% had a high school diploma, 33.1% had some college but no degree, 13.8% had an associate degree, 27.8% had a bachelor’s degree, and 5% had a master’s or higher degree. 


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. Additionally, center educators with longer years of teaching were associated with higher wages at a marginal level of significance. 


Black ECE educators, compared to White educators, earned higher hourly wages. The study found that Black ECE educators’ hourly wages were $1.52 higher than White peers. The hourly wages of those in the Hispanic/Latina/Latino and other races groups did not differ from those in the White group. 

This finding is inconsistent with previous studies that have found that Black and Hispanic/Latina/Latino educators are paid less than White peers. The study authors suggest a few possible explanations for this finding. One explanation is that the sample of educators consisted of a larger percentage of Black center educators with bachelor’s degrees than in previous studies. Another explanation may be related to the ECE center type. Black center educators were more likely to work in centers that were larger organizations, such as chains and Head Start, which may have more stable funding mechanisms than independent and stand-alone centers. More investigation is needed to understand how organizational and professional characteristics relate to ECE educators’ wage disparities.


In this study, working with infants and toddlers did not influence ECE educators’ wages. Additional analysis of the data showed that the age of children did not affect the relationship between race/ethnicity and hourly wages, which suggests that working in the infant/ toddler classroom was not associated with center educators’ hourly wages. This contrasts with past studies finding that working with infants and toddlers is associated with lower hourly wages.


The strong connection between higher educational attainment and higher 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 than White educators and that Hispanic/Latina/Latino educators earned comparable wages to White educators were unexpected. Given that many 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 learn what conditions reinforce racial and ethnic disparities in earnings and what conditions can eliminate these disparities. 


Lee, Y., Zeng, S., Douglass, A., Reyes, A., Johnson, A. (2022). Racial and Ethnic Wage Disparities Among Center-Based Early Educators. Early Childhood Education Journal. 1-10. 10.1007/s10643-022-01317-2 https://rdcu.be/cGpVK

Whitebook, M., McLean, C., Austin, L. J. E., & Edwards, B. (2018). Early childhood workforce index 2018. Center for the Study of Child Care Employment, University of California. berkeley.edu/wp-content/uploads/2018/06/Early-Childhood-Workforce-Index-2018.pdf

Grissom, J. A., Timmer, J. D., Nelson, J. L., & Blissett, R. S. (2021). Unequal pay for equal work? Unpacking the gender gap in principal compensation. Economics of Education Review, 82, 102114. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.econedurev.2021.102114

Austin, B. L. J. E., Edwards, B., Chávez, R., & Whitebook, M. (2019). Racial wage gaps in early education employment. Center for the Study of Child Care Employment, University of California. https://cscce.berkeley.edu/racial-wage-gaps-in-early-educationemployment/

 Allegretto, S. A., & Mishel, L. (2016). The teacher pay gap is wider than ever. Economic Policy Institute. https://www.epi.org/publication/the-teacher-pay-gap-is-wider-than-ever-teachers-pay-continues-to-fall-further-behind-pay-of-comparable-workers/

Paschall, K., Madill, R., & Halle, T. (2020). Professional characteristics of the early care and education workforce: Descriptions by race, ethnicity, languages spoken, and nativity status (OPRE Report #2020-107). Office of Planning, Research, and Evaluation, Administration for Children and Families, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. https://www.acf.hhs.gov/sites/default/fles/documents/opre/professional-characteristics-ECEdec-2020.pdf

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