ResearchEmployment, Education & Skills

Missing Misters: Gender Diversity among Teachers

Feb 27, 2024
Richard Reeves
A watercolor painting of a male teacher tteaching a class of young students.


Boys lag girls in K-12 education. In the average school district, boys are about a grade level behind girls in literacy. One potential step towards improving academic outcomes for boys is to ensure strong representation of male teachers. But men now account for just 23% of the U.S. elementary and secondary school teachers, down from about 30% in 1988. In this brief we examine the male teacher shortage, including patterns by subject, geography, and race. Black and Hispanic men are particularly underrepresented: only 6% of teachers are men of color. The challenge here is significant. Even returning to the 1988 male share would require over 230,000 additional male teachers. Reversing the downward trend in the share of male teachers will not be easy or quick. But it should be a priority for policymakers at all levels, from the federal government to individual schools.

Key Takeaways 


  • Today, only 23% of elementary and secondary school teachers are men (down from 30% in 1988).
  • Men account for just 3% of kindergarten and pre-K teachers and 20% of elementary and middle school teachers.
  • Over a quarter (26%) of all US students are boys of color, but only 6% of teachers are men of color.
  • Men are underrepresented in all states and across most subject areas; the shortage is particularly severe in English.
  • Closing gender and race gaps in public school teachers could help close gender and race gaps in student outcomes. 

From preschool to college, boys are behind their female peers. The average boy has less advanced social and behavioral skills than the average girl by the time they start kindergarten. Throughout elementary and middle school, girls outperform boys in English and often in math, too. The gender gap widens in adolescence: high school boys get worse grades, have more behavioral issues, and are less likely to graduate on time than girls. There are two girls for every boy in the top 10% of high school students ranked by GPA. Among those who graduate, boys are less likely to enroll in college and less likely to complete their degree if they do. 

It’s not just report cards that suffer; boys’ poor performance in school is connected to future health, romantic, and labor market outcomes. Improving the educational attainment of boys requires making schools more male-friendly. There are many avenues to pursue here, but one of the most important is ensuring a sufficient representation of male teachers.

Fewer men in the classroom

Women have long dominated the teaching workforce, but the share of male teachers has declined over the last 30 years. In 1988, men represented about 30% of those teaching in elementary and secondary schools (excluding prekindergarten teachers). Now, they represent less than a quarter (23%). That means the share of men teaching in elementary and secondary schools is lower than the share of women (26%) working in STEM occupations.

Men are especially unlikely to teach younger children: fewer than 3% of preschool and kindergarten teachers are men, compared to 20% of elementary and middle school teachers, and 43% of high school teachers.


Figure 1

The gender balance also varies considerably by academic subject. Given that women account for 57% of high school teachers, it is to be expected that they will account for most teachers in most subjects, and they do, including in math (58%), natural sciences (54%) and vocational/technical courses (54%). The only high school subjects where most teachers are male are physical education/health (59% male) and social sciences (59% male). Importantly, men account for only 26% of high school teachers in ELA (English and language arts), a subject in which boys routinely underperform.

The representation of men in K-12 education is also much lower in some states than others. In Wyoming, for example, over 31% of Pre-K to 12th grade teachers are male; in Mississippi, the male share is just 17%. Figure 2 shows that male representation is particularly low in the South and higher in some Western and Northern states.


Figure 2


Data Note

The data used for this brief comes primarily from the 2018-2022 5-Year American Community Survey (ACS) sample. Where noted, we also use the National Teacher and Principal Survey (NTPS) from the National Center for Education Statistics. The NTPS is a larger sample of teachers, but it does not include several variables of interest that are present in the ACS. While the samples and methods are different, the overall results gender-wise are similar. The ACS does report higher absolute numbers of teachers compared to the NTPS and the share of white teachers is lower than that provided by the NCES, so estimates for Figure 3 may undercount the true disparity among demographic pairings. See reference 11 for our full citation for figures.

Does representation matter? 

Does it matter if there are fewer men teaching our children? In terms of narrow academic outcomes, the evidence is sparse and mixed. Some research suggests that teacher representation, specifically for Black students, affects engagement and performance. With regard to boys in particular, education researcher Thomas Dee estimates that the gender gap in middle school English performance would decrease by about a third if half of English teachers were men. Another study found that the gender gap in school math performance halved in 9th grade classes that were taught by a man. Students are also more likely to report that they look forward to a subject when it’s taught by a teacher of the same gender. But other studies find no strong relationship between teacher gender and outcomes.

To the extent that a teacher’s demographic characteristics influence outcomes for similar students, a number of factors could be at work. Students may be more likely to be inspired by someone they relate to, a phenomenon commonly referred to as the “role model” effect. Boys might be more likely to perform well in school if they have a male teacher they relate to and admire. Some research suggests that the positive effect of teacher-matching may be driven by teachers having higher expectations of, or potentially devoting more attention to, students who are like them. Teachers tend to rate students of the same gender as more interested in the subject, less disruptive, and more likely to complete their homework relative to different-gender teacher-student pairs. But again, the evidence on impact and mechanisms is mixed or inconclusive. This is an area in which more research, especially from the perspective of boys and men, is needed.

There are other reasons representation matters, too, some of which may be harder to capture in short-run academic outcomes. Recent research shows that male school personnel are more likely to be identified as mentors for students. But, interestingly, female students are more likely to report having a mentor in school at all, possibly due to the lack of adult male teachers and staff. It is also important to avoid occupational gender stereotypes: it is almost certainly harder to persuade boys that teaching is a profession for men if most of their own teachers have been women.

Doubly underrepresented: male teachers of color 

The lack of male teachers of color is even more acute. This could be part of the reason boys of color face obstacles in school. There is some evidence that they benefit most (Black boys in particular) from having a teacher who looks like them, yet they are the least likely to have a male teacher of the same race or ethnicity. Table 1 shows the share of K-12 teachers and students from each racial group, broken by gender.


Table 1

It is important to consider how representative teachers are relative to the students they teach. White girls and boys represent about a quarter of students each, while more than half of all teachers (56%) are white women and 17% are white men. By contrast, over a quarter (26%) of all students are boys of color; but just 6% of teachers are men of color. Figure 3 shows the number of students per teacher of the same race and gender, using the same underlying data as Table 1.


Figure 3

Men of color are especially underrepresented among teachers relative to the students they teach. For every male teacher of the same race or ethnicity, there are 35 Black boys and 57 Hispanic boys. Even the white boy to white male teacher ratio (17:1), the lowest student teacher ratio among boys, is higher than the student teacher ratio for girls of any race or ethnicity.

Demographic trends pose a challenge to having a representative teaching force by race and gender; younger generations are more racially diverse than the generations teaching them (though teachers are still less diverse than the adult population). Men are also less likely to attend or graduate from college, but teaching requires high levels of education: more than half of K-12 teachers have a master’s degree or higher. To be sure, students of color benefit from having teachers of color, regardless of their gender. But if we’re serious about improving teacher diversity, we ought to ensure that boys have men to look up to irrespective of existing demographic trends or educational disparities. 

Narrowing the teacher gender gap 

Improving the gender balance of the teaching profession will be a challenge. Even returning to the 1988 share— a 70-30 split — would require over 230,000 additional male teachers. If we wanted to aim for parity, with men making up half of all public school teachers, we would need over a million more male teachers.

Some policy approaches to increasing the number of male teachers might include: establishing gender quotas in teacher hiring; funding scholarships for young men pursuing a degree in education; encouraging alternative routes to becoming a teacher; and fostering a more inclusive teaching environment.

While there isn’t much research on strategies to recruit and retain male teachers, there are some efforts going on throughout the country:

If it is true that students are influenced by having role models who look like them, then many of the interventions to increase the number of male teachers could have positive long-term effects. Encouraging more men, and especially men of color, into teaching could create a virtuous cycle: hiring more male teachers now would mean more boys having male teachers, which could in turn lead to more boys becoming college graduates aspiring to become teachers themselves.

Male teachers – we want to hear from you!

Are you a male teacher or do you work with them? We’d love to hear about your experience on-the-ground! We are particularly interested in ideas or leads for research, programs or policies that could help more men to become and stay teachers. We will keep your response confidential, though we may reach out for follow-up. Share the form with others too!



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