Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Teachers vs Athletes


Whose side are you on?

I know this is silly.

I love quotes, so I have quotes of the day popping up in all sorts of places.  One today was:
"America believes in education: the average professor earns more money in a year than a professional athlete earns in a whole week." - Evan Esar
"More like in a minute," I think.  I tweet the quote and twask: Problem: how long does it take the average prof. athlete to earn the average annual teacher salary? Calling W|A!  (Mr. Esar is listed in wikipedia as a humorist.)

@SethBurn asked back: "@mathhombre Are minor league baseball player's professional athletes? How about women in the WNBA? AHL hockey? MLS soccer?"

Hmmm.  Admittedly I was thinking about MLB, NBA and NFL.  Onto  Wolfram|Alpha!

My first try was "average salary professional athlete" which got me the average US salary ($40,690/year).  One of the suggestions was "athlete salary" which returned this data.

people employed | 12670 people (1 in 10604)\nyearly change | +170 people  (+1.4%)\nmedian wage | $38440 per year\nmedian yearly change | -$2620 per year  (-6.4%)\n50% range | $ 21690 to $83150 per year\n80% range | $ 15210 to unknown\n(2007 data)
That's a lot of info.  To see all that for the future searches, just click on the search terms, which will take you to the W|A search page.

"average teacher salary" finds for all US education, training and library occupations, $46,610/year.  All right! Elementary teachers (a suggested search by W|A):  $50,040/year for 1.54 million workers.  Secondary teachers:  for $52,450/year for 1.06 million teachers.  It interpreted secondary to be highschool, so Middle School teachers: $50,630/year for 650,000 teachers. It occurs to me to ask for a comparison here: professional athletes vs teachers, which isn't much more informative.

So I calculate the average teacher salary (excluding special education and vocational teachers): (50040*1.54+52450*1.06+50630*.65)/(1.54+1.06+.65) = $50,944 as an average teacher salary.

What about the pro athletes?  I think the original Wolfram Alpha figure is interesting.  But what about the big time leagues?

Baseball: "average MLB salary" got the major league baseball teams, "average baseball salary MLB" didn't work (some results about the energy expenditures of playing baseball).  Can't get it to give me the number.  Finally googled it up: $2,944,556 in 2007, for 28 players*30 teams, 840 players; NFL $1.4 million in 2006 for 53 players * 32 teams, 1696 players; NBA $5,215,000 for 432 players.  (The 30 teams can have up to 15, but not all do.)  So the average major league professional salary: (2,944,556*840+1400000*1696+5215000*432)/(840+1696+432) = $2,390,000 for about 3000 professional athletes.

What about hockey?  I am a die-hard Red Wings fan, so it breaks my heart, but I don't think the NHL is a major professional sport in the US anymore.  And if the Wings are out, MLS is right out.

The original question involves breaking down by hourly wage.  Which raises the question of how many hours an athlete works.  I considered a lot of approaches, but ultimately decided that most pro athletes work year round now, considering conditioning, and long hours during a season.  Maybe.  So we'll consider the 50 weeks by 40 hours per week. About $1,195 per hour.  $50,944/$1,195 is about 42.

Like I shouldn't have known the answer would be 42?

Anyhow, that's about a week.  So congratulations on your estimate, Mr. Esar.


  1. It is very difficult to know how much value a teacher creates. Our current system of paying for teachers out of local taxes creates a lot of problems. One big thing I would like to see is a greater amount of respect given to the teaching profession, along with the destruction of tenure. Have you heard about the theory that the best way to improve the education system is to fire 80% of the teachers?

    rebuttal #1:

    rebuttal #2:

    In any event, professional athletes as a general rule create a tremendous amount of value. As best I can tell the stars are massively underpaid relative to the value they create. Comparing them to teachers really doesn't serve anyone.

  2. I wasn't trying to do economics. I understand that athletes are, in a sense, revenue streams paid for by advertising. I was trying to demonstrate an idea creating a math problem, and then using the internet to gather the information to answer it.

    I don't see a dichotomy between teachers and athletes, really. Why think of all the great teacher-athletes! Like... um...