Teaching in the United States was once considered a career for men. Then the profession’s gender composition shifted dramatically around the mid-19th century, when the country’s public-school system was born. As schoolhouse doors opened to children of all social classes and genders, so too did the education profession. By the late 1880s, women made up a majority—63 percent—of all the country’s teachers (though men continued to make up most of the high-school teaching force until the late 1970s). Within a few decades, the choice to teach young children was solidified as an inherently “feminine” pursuit; in fact, girls who couldn’t or didn’t want to be homemakers had few other job options.
In the mid-20th century, however, cultural and political shifts prompted a surge in the number of women seeking employment in traditionally “masculine” sectors. These changes also prompted the reverse—albeit to a lesser extent: The number of men seeking classroom careers rose and has grown by 31 percent since the early 1980s.
Yet despite this, the gender distribution in the profession has strangely grown more imbalanced, according to recently released data, largely because women are still pursuing teaching at far greater rates than men. According to the study, led by the University of Pennsylvania professor Richard Ingersoll, the nation has witnessed a “slow but steady” increase in the share of K–12 educators who are women. During the 1980–81 school year, roughly two in three—67 percent—public-school teachers were women; by the 2015–16 school year, the share of women teachers had grown to more than three in four, at 76 percent. (From 1987 to 2015, the size of the teaching force increased by more than 60 percent, from about 2.5 million to about 4.5 million, according to the recent report, which helps explain why the field tipped further female despite the rising number of men in the profession.)