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close this bookTurbulence or Orderly Change? Teacher Supply and Demand in South Africa - Current Status, Future Needs and the Impact of HIV/AIDS (CIE, 2000, 36 p.)
View the document(introduction...)
View the documentMulti-Site Teacher Education Research Project (MUSTER)
View the documentList of Acronyms and Abbreviations
View the document1. Overview
View the document2. Background and Introduction
View the document3. The Demographic Characteristics of Teachers
View the document4. Incomes of Teachers and Non-teachers
View the document5. Teacher Turnover - The Dynamics of Teaching Employment
View the document6. Forecasting Basic Numbers
View the document7. Regionality and Micro-Regionality of the HIV/AIDS Epidemic
View the document8. Concluding Remarks
View the documentAnnex

4. Incomes of Teachers and Non-teachers

The data presented so far shows that teachers earn higher incomes than other employed workers. We will see that much of this higher income can be explained with reference to the higher levels of education required of teachers than of other workers. In this section we want to try to develop a sense of where teachers are in the overall income distribution: are most teachers better off than, say, the top one-quarter of the non-teaching workers, i.e., the rest of the labour force? Or better off than only, say, the top one-third?

Figure 1 presents the basic information. The relative frequencies of earning categories are shown on the y-axis, and the earning categories are shown on the x-axis.

Figure 1: Teacher and Non-teacher Income

The income distribution for non-teachers, for example, shows that about half of non-teachers earned less than about R2000 per month (about 36% were in the R0-999 category, and about 27% were in the R1000-1999 category), whereas about half of teachers earned more than about R4000. We should note that the OHS includes independent and probably some informal sector teachers, since it relies on the respondent’s self-definition as a teacher. Thus, there are teachers earning surprisingly low salaries in the sample.

The greater the area under the teacher’s curve is displaced to the right, compared to the area under the non-teacher’s curve, the more that teachers are in the “elite” of income earners. Similarly, the smaller the y-axis value of the intersection between the two curves, the more that teachers are in an income elite relative to non-teachers (as long as the basic shape and positioning of the curves resemble those in the graphic).

Changes over time in income between teachers and non-teachers are illustrated in Table 1. This shows the value of the intersection points for teachers and non-teachers earnings, and the percentile for non-teachers whose earnings are the same as the 50th percentile for teachers.

Table 1: Income distribution characteristics for teachers and non-teachers


Intersection of both distributions (y-axis value of the intersection)

Non-teachers below the teachers’ 50th percentile










Source: calculated by the author from OHS 1995, 1997 and 1999 data

The intersection simply shows the y-axis value at which the two curves intersect.6 We can see that this intersection between the two curves displaced itself to the right (on the x-axis) or down (on the y-axis) between 1995 and 1999: the bulk of teachers were shifting away from the bulk of the population, in terms of income. The other indicator shows the percentile for non-teachers at the same income level that yields the 50th percentile for teachers. Thus, in 1995, for example, 80.1% of the employed population was worse off than the top 50% of teachers. In 1999, 84.3% of the population was worse off than the top 50% of teachers. Or, to put it another way, most (more than 50%) of teachers were better off than the top 15.7% of the working population. There was an increase of 4 percentage points in this indicator in the four years between 1995 and 1999. Teachers were increasingly in the economic elite amongst the employed.7 If we were to add the unemployed, we would see that teachers are indeed at the very top of the income distribution. Note that both measures drifted from each other by about 4 percentage points or 0.04 in absolute terms.8

6 This was estimated by looking at income groups on the x-axis, and the relative frequency of incomes on the y-axis. The intersection was determined by solving for both x and y in the two implicit equations for the straight line segments that intersected.

7 There is no statistical hypothesis test that leaps to mind for ascertaining whether these trends are statistically significant. However, if we simply note that the standard error for the proportion of the population falling in, say, the 3rd income group above is about 0.006, it would appear that we can be confident at the 95% level of there being a real trend here. Since we have seen above that the average earnings of teachers did increase faster than those of non-teachers, the two results are consistent, and we can be more confident of what we are saying.

8 This is logical, given that the two measures approach basically the same idea but in different ways. The first column shows the y-axis value of the intersection, whereas the second column shows the left-side area under the non-teacher’s curve at the point where the left-side area under the teacher’s curve covers 50% of the total area under the teacher’s curve.

One further point is of interest in relation to teachers’ incomes. We have noted that in general teachers earn much higher incomes than other employed workers. However, they are far more educated and vary in other ways. For example, they are more female, more African, and more unionised than other workers. The question arises: do teachers have an advantage, or a disadvantage, over other employed workers in the labour force, if one considers the fact that their demographic and education profile differs from that of non-teachers. Some insight into this question can be obtained from Figure 2. This shows the pay advantage (average teachers income - non-teachers income) in 1999 by REQV level and age. The example chosen is for African female teachers, this being the most common category of teacher. The underlying analysis, which creates this chart, is described in detail in the original monograph.

Figure 2 shows that for almost all REQV categories of teachers there is a positive pay advantage, which diminishes with age. Teachers earn more, controlling for their education level, than do other workers. Only at the highest levels does the pay advantage become negative - i.e. being a teacher provides less income than other occupations to those with the highest qualifications. We can note that pay advantages are greatest for the least educated and the youngest. Other things being equal this should mean that the incentive to become and remain a teacher is highest for these groups.

Figure 2: Pay advantage Teachers - Non-teachers 1999

In conclusion, at a macro level (though not, obviously, in the individual classroom) most teachers are better off than the parents of all but about the wealthiest 10% to 15% or so of the children they teach. It is impossible to portray teachers as belonging, as a mass, to the same socio-economic class as the parents of the children they teach, again as a mass. And the gap seems to have increased between 1995 and 1999. We can note that as countries develop, the normal trend is for teachers to start out being a relatively privileged class in society and then evolve towards being approximately in the same income/social class as most parents. South Africa’s teachers are more distant from the income base of parents than is normal in other countries at the same level of economic development. Furthermore, South Africa seems to be moving further away from the norm of other countries. As South Africa develops the deviation in income between teachers’ and that of the majority of parents is widening. At this point in time any identification of teachers as being in the same socio-economic group as most parents seems to have more to do with emotional and political issues, than with economic realities. If current trends continue the distance between teachers and parents in terms of average incomes will become even greater.