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Monday, March 07, 2011


% of GDP per capita isn't the right divisor. It should % of GDP per capita per primary-school age child. If Korea has twice as many schoolkids as a % of the population as New Zealand does, they aren't spending more on teachers, they're spending less.


Indeed, you could look at several different calculations, though I hesitate to call one in particular the right calculation. One, as you explain, is % of GDP per capita per primary-school student (BTW, median age in South Korea is close to US and birth rate is substantially lower). You could also look at GDP per capita per primary school teacher. You could also directly compare salaries adjusted for cost of living (teacher comfort index). But the figure in this table is still interesting when discussing aggregate burden of teacher pay on the larger society, much the way we look at percentage of GDP spent on defense, health care, housing etc. Also, as student population decreases relative to overall population size, the tax burden per adult is less. So there are a number of ways to run the numbers, each, I IMO, providing information worth considering.

I have been in Korea for several years. I wasn't aware that the teachers I work with on a daily basis were getting paid so well. Some of them live in a small one room apartment in some run down buildings.

My brother however, who was a middle school industrial arts teacher in Ohio, lives in his own house. Wonder how he did it.

I guess my Korean friend who is a sales manager at KT (a major Korean telecommunications company) who speaks English better than most English teachers, was stupid for not wanting a public school teaching job. After all, he always complains about all the hours he has to put in.

Good points, Dr. X. I really don't know what the graph would look like if recalculated to my preferred stat, but you're quite right that it is interesting as-is.

Brian, I don't think you can really read the chart that way. A small-GDP nation could be at the top of this chart but teacher pay could still be very poor in that country. The chart as formulated is more a measure of national priorities than of individual circumstances.

The USA has a fairly high Gini coefficient, meaning that a substantial portion of GDP goes to the richest 10 and even 1 percent, primarily in the form of return on investment. When the top 1% is receiving 22% of all income this will distort a GDP/share comparison. The more relevant comparison might be median or even average wage.

Great point, John. Teacher wages relative to median income rather than teachers' GDP/share would provide the more relevant frame.

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