July 06, 2003

What Should College Professors Be Paid?

The past is a different country. Even the relatively recent past of, say, a century ago is a very different country.

In 1905 "G.H.M.", an anonymous college professor, wrote a four-page article for the Atlantic Monthly in which he pleaded for more money for college professor salaries, and claimed to be vastly underpaid. The first thing to note is the relative level of professorial salaries back then: he claimed that the "average college professorís salary"--the salary that he saw as clearly inadequate and unfairly low--"is about $2,000." Stan Lebergott's estimates in the Historical Statistics of the United States are that the average annual earnings of an employee in America in 1905 were $490 dollars if employed for the entire year--or $451 taking account of the hazards of unemployment. What G.H.M. says is the average college professor's salary is more than four times annual average earnings of the time.

Today's professors don't make such large relative salaries (except in business, law, and medical schools). In order to match turn-of-the-century college professors in terms of income relative to the national average, a professor today would have to make an academic salary of roughly $250,000--a height far above any professorial average, and one attained only by academic celebrities.

The second thing to note is that our professor sees himself as a reasonable and badly underpaid man. He is not asking for what he would see as the "large salar[y], commensurate with what equal ability would bring in other lines of work ($10,000 to $50,000)"--or 20 to 100 times the then-current average level of GDP per worker, the equivalent today of between $1,100,000 and $5,500,000 a year. At 50 times average GDP per worker (roughly the mid-point of G.H.M.'s range, corresponding to a salary of $2.5 million a year), we are down to perhaps 4000 households in todayís United States (according to Piketty and Saez (2001)). That an "ordinary" professor could feel that his talents ought, in some sense, to earn such an enormous multiple of the average income is a sign of how unequal an economy and society the turn of the twentieth century U.S. was. Yet G.H.M.'s feeling of being sharply constrained by material necessity is real: as this professor goes through his budget, he expects the highly-literate and elite readers of the Atlantic Monthly to nod and agree (and we modern readers do indeed nod and agree) that his family is strapped for cash.

The first large expense G.H.M. lists is for personal services: "We must pay $25 a month for even a passable servant," and add to that $10 a month for laundry (for the regular "servants will do no laundry work") $1 a month for haircuts, and $2 a month for a gardener. Already, on personal services alone, we are up to $445 a year--the average annual earnings of a manufacturing worker in 1905.

G.H.M. offers two rationales for these large personal-service expenditures. The first is that they are necessary to keep the load of domestic work from sending his wife to an early grave. "Shall we expect our wives to bear and rear children, do all of the housework, sustain their social duties, and remain well and strong?"

The second rationale is that these expenditures are required for him to face the world without shame. For the professor, however, these expenditures on personal services are completely non-negotiable. If he doesn't spend, his household will fail to make a properly upper-middle-class impression: the lawn must be trimmed, the house dusted, the clothes cleaned, and the children washed. He has no gasoline-powered lawnmower, no electric hedge clippers, no vacuum cleaner, no dishwasher, and neither a washing machine nor a dryer. Consumer durables take the place now of what took servants' sweat (at least for college professors' households) a century ago.

G.H.M.'s food bills average $55 a month on food--enough back then to buy 170 lbs. of veal cutlets (present market value perhaps $1000), or 500 pounds of chuck roast (present value perhaps $1200), or 1000 lbs. of bread (present value perhaps $1300). Note that $55 a month works out to be $660 a year, again considerably more than a yearís average GDP per worker. G.H.M. spends more than 100% of an average worker's budget on food alone. In general it was hard to economize on food at the start of this century: food and fuel consume almost half of consumer expenditure for the average household in 1885, but only a sixth of consumer expenditure today. It is the same for G.H.M.: his food bills are roughly a quarter of his annual expenditure, while my non-restaurant food bills are less than a twelfth of mine (and I buy a lot of food at a much more advanced stage of preparation today than G.H.M. could back a century ago).

A third thing to note is the cost of (effective) medical care: $1200 to treat a single case of appendicitis. That's nearly three years' worth of an average worker's income--the same share of GDP per worker then that $160,000 would be today. Appendicitis today is a serious illness--but think what it was like before antibiotics, before laproscopy.

And a fourth thing to note is G.H.M.'s plea for culture: he and his wife's long and sophisticated education "has given us a refined appreciation of the drama, and we have a knowledge of and love of the best music. The annual football game is a social event which every loyal member of the college community is supposed to attend. We cut this out long ago. Grand opera exists for us only in the memory of our German days. Let us keep the spark alive by taking our wives once a month to a cheap concert; say $1." $12 a year--perhaps 1 1/2 percent of annual per-worker spending--to to hear perhaps 18 hours of live music played by professional musicians. And how little his family gets for it!

The overall impression to us is one of grinding poverty. And the overall feeling that G.H.M. has is of near-poverty--of being just one racing shell-length ahead of the working class, of being barely able to afford the necessities and some of the conveniences of life.

Yet according to GHM the average college professor stood in 1905 in roughly the same relative position in the distribution of income in America then as somebody in roughly the 99.5 percentile does today...

G.H.M. (1905), "What Should College Professors Be Paid?" The Atlantic Monthly 95:5 (May), pp. 647-50.

G.H.M. (1905), "What Should College Professors Be Paid?" The Atlantic Monthly 95:5 (May), pp. 647-50.

A great deal has been written of late, especially in the annual reports of college presidents, regarding the inadequacy of the compensation received by university teachers. The writer, to whom the question is one of vital importance, has seen many of these general statements, but has failed to find any which has taken up the matter in conclusive form. This he hopes to do here concisely.

Primarily the question is one of standard of living. If a grocery clerk can maintain his family in a suitable degree of decency and comfort on seventy-five dollars a month, have we a right to expect that a college instructor can do the same? The answer to this involves the demands which society makes upon the respective individuals.

To get at this point the writer analyzed the itemized household accounts which his wife has kept for the past nine years, during which time he has been connected with one of our large and wealthy universities. Two years were spent as an instructor, two as assistant professor, and the next five as associate professor.

Summing up his total expenditures for these nine years, and in like manner his salary for the same period, he finds his expenditures have been to his salary in the ratio of 2.1 to 1.

His average annual expenditure has been $2794.27.

His average salary has been $1328.15

For the privilege of teaching he has paid the difference, of $1466.12 annually, from private means.

Even the unbusinesslike professor must pause before such a state of affairs, and try to fathom the reason for this discrepancy, when his firm belief is that he is living on as low a scale of economy as is possible for him in his position.

In order to find out where the bad management might be, -- if bad management there was, -- he divided his expenditure account into thirty-one separate items, arranged in tabular form under the following heads: --

  1. Household Furnishing and Repairs.
  2. Groceries, Meat, Fruit, Vegetables, etc.
  3. Servants.
  4. Fuel.
  5. Light and Water.
  6. Gardener and Grounds.
  7. Laundry.
  8. Taxes.
  9. Life Insurance.
  10. Fire Insurance.
  11. Rent, or Interest on House and Lot.
  12. Bicycles and repairs.
    Horse, care and feed.
  13. Doctors and Dentists.
  14. Hospitals, Nurses, Drugs.
  15. Death Expenses.
  16. Legal Services.
  17. Interest on Borrowed Money, for running expenses.
  18. P.O. Box, Postage, Stationery, Telegrams, Telephone, Express, etc.
  19. Newspapers, Books, and Periodicals.
  20. Clothing, Dry Goods, Shoes, etc.
  21. Learned Societies and Social Clubs.
  22. University Gifts and Supplies.
  23. Typewriting, Printing, and Mimeographing.
  24. Children's Tuition and Pocket Money.
  25. Subscriptions and Charity.
  26. Theatre, Concerts, Athletic Sports
  27. Christmas and other Gifts.
    Entertainment of Friends.
  28. Wine, Beer, Tobacco, Candy, and other Luxuries
  29. Personal and Toilet Supplies
  30. Business and Recreation Trips, Hotels, R.R. Fare, Carfare, etc.
  31. Family Obligations, or Payment of Educational Debt.
  32. Savings, other than Life Insurance, looking toward old age.

He believes that, assuming that a college professor has the right to marry and have two or three children, there is not a single one of these items which may be omitted from a consideration of expenses to cover a period of years. The whole question, then, resolves itself into this: how much per year is it reasonable to allow for each of these items?

In the community in which he lives, with a family of two adults, two children, and one servant, at the present high prices of the necessities of life, he believes that the sums he mentions are the very least upon which his household can be conducted. And he bases this belief upon a most accurate analysis of fully itemized accounts.

Taking up the items in detail: --

1. Household furnishing and repairs. This item must cover, for a period of years, the original cost of household furniture of all descriptions. In addition, it must look after natural wear, tear, and breakage of furniture, glass, dishes, kitchen utensils, rugs, curtains, bedding, etc., as well as carpentry, plumbing, and the like. It must also provide for pictures, "works of art," and household adornments in general. Does $75 a year seem excessive for this? Say $6 a month.

2. For five persons a grocery bill of $25 per month, a meat bill of $15, milk $5, fruit, vegetables, butter and eggs, $10, or a total of $55 ($11 per person), should not seem unreasonable.

3. We must pay $25 a month for even a passable servant. Shall we expect our wives to bear and rear children, do all of the housework, sustain their social duties, and remain well and strong?

4. Kitchen, fireplace, and furnace fuel will aggregate $120 per year, or $10 a month.

5. Light and water average with us just $5 a month.

6. The labor of a gardener one day a month is $2.

7. Our laundry averages just $10 monthly. Our servants will do no laundry work.

8. An investment of $5000 in house and lot, together with personal property and poll tax, makes this $10 a month. If there were no house owned, the rent item (11) would have to be increased.

9. To protect the family of a man who is not in a position to save, $5000 life insurance is not too much. The monthly premium on this amount, assuming a twenty-payment ordinary life policy, will be $10.

10. $3000 insurance on house, and $2000 on personal property, makes $18 per year, or $1.50 a month.

11. Six per cent on $5000 invested in house and lot is $300 annually, or $25 a month. This does not provide for depreciation, maintenance, and repairs. No desirable house on the campus can be rented for less than $35.

12. Not caring to pay so large a rent, we live off the campus and use bicycles. Their depreciation and repairs average $2 a month. Keeping a horse would cost $8 a month.

13. An experience of ten years shows us that not less than $10 a month may be set down for doctors and dentists for the family. A single attack of appendicitis in ten years will take the whole of this.

14. Hospitals, nurses, and drugs average $5 a month.

15. Since the average duration of life is about forty years, in a family of four individuals one death is to be expected every ten years. this item may be set down at $2 a month.

16. Occasional notary and minor legal services average $1 a month.

17. Certain expenses, like life insurance and taxes, being payable in large amounts, necessitate loans from the bank, which are gradually repaid. This item may be set down at fifty cents monthly.

18. For a live family with connections, postage, stationery, telegrams, telephones, express, freight, cartage, and allied items, will aggregate $3 a month.

19. Newspapers, books, and periodicals. A college professor is supposed to revel in this kind of thing. Suppose we allow him $5 a month.

20. To clothe four individuals neatly and completely cannot cost less than $180 a year, can it? This is $15 a month.

21. Learned society and social club initiation fees and dues must amount to at least $2 monthly.

22. University gifts and supplies, typewriting, etc. We are constantly going into our pockeets for small items which the university will not or cannot furnish without unbearable delay; or we may be working on lines of investigation that call for outlay. Say $1 a month.

23. In our case, our children are of the kindergarten and primary school age, so this item is only $9 a month. Older colleagues, whose children have advanced to the music lesson and preparatory school age, say they must allow $50 to $60 monthly.

24. Some families belong to a church. We all have charitable instincts, we are of that class to which the call of needy or suffering humanity appeals. May we allow $2 a month?

25. Our education has given us a refined appreciation of the drama, and we have a knowledge of and love of the best music. The annual football game is a social event which every loyal member of the college community is supposed to attend. We cut this out long ago. Grand opera exists for us only in the memory of our German days. Let us keep the spark alive by taking our wives once a month to a cheap concert; say $1.

26. We have children and friends; there are birthdays and anniversaries; as well as Christmas. Is $50 a year too much? This is $4 a month. Dinners, receptions, and the like, are not for us.

27. Occasionally a man is jaded; he has a wild desire to "blow himself." May he have $1 a month pocket money, to share with his wife?

28. Most of us can shave ourselves, but we cannot cut our own hair, although we may invert a bowl over the heads of our youngsters, and trim around the edges. Here is another $1.

29. When summer comes, a teacher is pretty nearly always exhausted. His work is trying and confining. His family requires an occasional change of air. His professional needs may call for a long journey to attend an important meeting of fellow workers, etc. For an average geographical location $100 a year, or $8.50, is not too much to cover these items. For an exceptional location, like the extreme Pacific coast, this item should be trebled.

30. The writer has known many colleagues whose educational expenses had put them under obligations which they were pledged to repay. In most cases it takes ten years to wipe out these obligations. Sometimes at the end of this period not even the beginning of discharging the debt has been made. Our college professors often come from families whose means are small. The support of aged parents or other relatives may have to be borne by them in common with their brothers or sisters. Every man is apt to have some such claim on himself or his wife. To cover these items let us allow him $10 a month.

31. A few, a very few, of our colleges pay pensions to their old and worn-out teachers. In such cases perhaps there is no need for a man to lay aside something for his old age, or to make provision for his children's start in life. Perhaps he owes a duty to his children to give them as good an education and chance as he himself received. If so, he must begin to lay aside for it. Where there is no pension, should he not aim, after thirty years of faithful service, to have $10,000 laid aside? He is not in a position to know of places where he can get large returns on his small investments. Shall we allow him $250 a year to put aside (providing there are no "exceptional and unusual" expenses that year, as there always are)? Let us say $20 per month.

SUMMARY

These are certainly not great demands. Yet, summing them up, taking the smaller of the two when two sums are mentioned, we have $262.50 monthly, or $3150 per year. Let us talk no more of bad management, -- we and our wives face an impossible problem.

CONCLUSION

If this seems extravagant to those who have to determine upon the proper minimum compensation for a man of long training, education, and refinement, we must ask them to look over these items carefully, one by one, and put down what they think a fair sum for each item for a family of the college professor's social status. Then let them foot up the total. The average college professor's salary, in the United States, is about $2000. The inevitable deduction from the table of analyzed expenses, borne out by the experience of the writer and of all his colleagues whom he has consulted, is that this must be increased sixty per cent, -- the increase to be uniform in all grades, from instructor to head professor.

If the profession of teaching is to attract the highest type of efficient manhood, a living salary must be paid. A man who devotes his life to the cause of the advancement of education must feel a "call" to it. He should be of a type which joyfully relinquishes all desire to accumulate worldly wealth or to live in luxury. Large salaries, commensurate with what equal ability would bring in other lines of work ($10,000 to $50,000) might be just, but would be undesirable, as they would tend to serve as bait to attract mercenary and lower types of men.

but a man fit to occupy a chair in a university shoul dbe paid enough to enable him to live in decency and comfort, rearing and educating his children, and retiring in his old age to something other than absolute penury.

The writer would commend a careful study of his table to all college trustees.

Can a man, whose energies are spent in so unequal and impossible a struggle to make both ends meet, maintain freshness and vigor in his work, be an inspiration to his students, and fulfill in scholarship the promise of his early years? The alternative demanded by the conditions is celibacy.

Posted by DeLong at July 6, 2003 04:09 PM | TrackBack

Comments

>>G.H.M. offers two rationales for these large personal-service expenditures. The first is that they are necessary to keep the load of domestic work from sending his wife to an early grave. "Shall we expect our wives to bear and rear children, do all of the housework, sustain their social duties, and remain well and strong?"

And what of the poor souls married to these personal servants? How are their wives to "to bear and rear children, do all of the housework, sustain their social duties, and remain well and strong?"

That aside, G.H.M.'s is an interesting perspective on the hamster wheel of consumerism. It echoes well with the modern assertions of the similarly wealthy that they are middle class. Oh, if only they lived a day or week in the life a workingman, how much better might the world be.

Perspective.

Posted by: Brendan on July 6, 2003 08:19 PM

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Two noteworthy points about this story:

1) What seems to us to be a passable middle-class existence was attainable by only the top 1% a century ago. But we don't need to look back in history; we could just as well look at life in many less-developed nations today. We middle-class inhabitants of the developed world are incredibly fortunate.

2) It seems oddly quaint to us that a college professor should have been among this rarified top 1%. I suspect that part of the explanation has to do with the shear rarity of such levels of academic achievement a century ago. Nowadays, nearly everyone graduates from high school, most obtain bachelor's degrees, and some amount of postgraduate education is hardly uncommon. Professors today are just not *that* much better educated than the general population.

Perhaps, rather than measuring the professor's salary relative to that of the general population, a more reasonable statistic to look at would be the ratio of the professor's salary relative to that of all college graduates.

I think that you'll find that then, as today, the professor is not much better off than his former students.

Posted by: Jacques Distler on July 6, 2003 09:12 PM

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Brad says, "...he expects the highly-literate and elite readers of the Atlantic Monthly to nod and ANGRY (and we modern readers do indeed nod and ANGRY) that his family is strapped for cash."

(Emphasis added.)

Since when is "angry" a verb? I checked the dictionary at m-w.com and found it to be (as I suspected) an adjective. Am I missing something here? If so, I am angrying about it.

Posted by: Harold Harkleson on July 6, 2003 09:12 PM

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There's a rather interesting silent film, directed by a woman named Lois Weber, on the very theme of underpaid professors being treated as lackeys by rich young bloods at fancy schools, called The Blot. (Plays on Turner Classic Movies once in a while.) Very interesting as a picture of that time when college was just for the few.

Posted by: Mike G on July 6, 2003 09:48 PM

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>>And what of the poor souls married to these personal servants? How are their wives to "to bear and rear children, do all of the housework, sustain their social duties, and remain well and strong?" <<

Exactly...

:-)

Posted by: Brad DeLong on July 6, 2003 10:26 PM

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>>nod and ANGRY <<

supposed to be "agree"

Posted by: Brad DeLong on July 6, 2003 10:27 PM

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"The second rationale is that these expenditures are required for him to face the world without shame."

I think this is the key. He has the necessities, and he's mostly not holding out for luxuries (though his household's consumption -- e.g., of food -- would look luxurious to the average worker). What he's talking about are what people used to call "decencies:" the goods and services and amenities that are required in order to maintain status as an educated gentleman.

Ability to maintain a wife in "comfort" was a pretty serious marker of status. If your wife worked for wages, you were out of the game. But even if she didn't, even if a man could "keep" a wife at home, the more household labor she actually performed (or was seen to perform), the lower his status. The role of the upper middle-class wife was to manage the household (including managing the servants) but not to do the real drudgery. Of course it was just a given that the wives and daughters of working-class men should perform that labor, for long hours and little pay.

Posted by: Invisible Adjunct on July 7, 2003 03:09 AM

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Consider Veblen's "Theory of the Leisure Class", End of Chapter Five:
"The effect of this factor of the standard of living, both in the way of retrenchment in the obscurer elements of consumption that go to physical comfort and maintenance, and also in the paucity or absence of children, is perhaps seen at its best among the classes given to scholarly pursuits.

Because of a presumed superiority and scarcity of the gifts and attainments that characterize their life, these classes are by convention subsumed under a higher social grade than their pecuniary grade should warrant. The scale of decent expenditure in their case is pitched correspondingly high, and it consequently leaves an exceptionally narrow margin disposable for the other ends of life.

By force of circumstances, their habitual sense of what is good and right in these matters, as well as the expectations of the community in the way of pecuniary decency among the learned, are excessively high -- as measured by the prevalent degree of opulence and earning capacity of the class, relatively to the non-scholarly classes whose social equals they nominally are.

In any modern community where there is no priestly monopoly of these occupations, the people of scholarly pursuits are unavoidably thrown into contact with classes that are pecuniarily their superiors. The high standard of pecuniary decency in force among these superior classes is transfused among the scholarly classes with but little mitigation of its rigor; and as a consequence there is no class of the community that spends a larger proportion of its substance in conspicuous waste than these."

Posted by: JC Brunner on July 7, 2003 03:48 AM

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My first thought was along the lines offered by Jaques Distler. Is it not also likely that the college professor of the day was drawn from a level of society that maintained a living standard not much below what he expected to maintain? Did the sons and daughters of the poorer 90% of the population become professors? I wonder if the writer's hopes were conditioned both by the society in which he found himself as a university instructor and by the society from which he was drawn. Would he have grown up the son of a banker, an insurance executive or a successful merchant and their unemployed wives, rather than the sone of a carpenter and a seamstress?

Posted by: K Harris on July 7, 2003 04:36 AM

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Prior to 1914, perhaps prior to 1929, a married middle class man kept servants. If you kept at least one servant, you were, however tenuously, middle class; if you didn't, you weren't. It was a bright line.

Pace Schumpeter, not everyone liked having servants. See Virginia Woolf's diary, passim. But it was unthinkable not to have them.

The interesting thing about G.H.M. is he seems to feel he needs to justify his servant, which suggests that attitudes are beginning to change, at least in the US.

Posted by: jam on July 7, 2003 05:58 AM

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Professor DeLong:

Are YOU underpaid?

Posted by: Tom Strong on July 7, 2003 08:45 AM

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Speaking up (tenatively) for those women, there was a reason that they kept servants. If you peruse the periodicals at the time of the invention of the washing machine, you'll see a lot of references to the total exhaustion that Monday brings. Try saving up all your household laundry for a week and then washing it by heating, yourself, boiling water, sticking your hands in said water to soap the clothes and then banging them against a washboard, and repeating until the water runs clean, hand bleaching your whites, rinsing all in water that was not always running, but sometimes had to be hauled by hand, and then pick up all those heavy clothes, sheets, etc. and hang them on a line to dry, and you'll realize why the servants wouldn't do laundry. It also took most of the afternoon to prepare a meal. Coal had to be carried by hand up three flights of stairs. The stove had to be kept stoked all day so it would be hot enough to cook dinner. And cooking over an enormous, uninsulated stove in 100-degree heat is no joke. We're apalled that this gent thinks his wife should be immune from the things that the majority of the women in the country were doing. But how many of YOU would be willing to leave a comfortable upper-middle class lifestyle to settle down to a life of physical drudgery? Moreover, it would have been impossible for her to do so and maintain the social round that the university of the period undoubtedly expected. Professors wives might live in genteel poverty, but the university wouldn't have hired anyone with a wife who was sufficiently uneducated to be content acting as a charwoman. My family were in the uneducated classes at the time -- but even they had hired girls.

I think the most interesting point of all of this is that it refutes the tendency of many on all parts of the political spectrum to romanticize the past as a halcyon era of (fine protestant pastoral splendor/environmental nirvana). With two servants, this chap's standard of living wouldn't do for a welfare mother today. His status, of course, was greater, and he undoubtedly enjoyed more security in his home. But no access to entertainment, no travel, barely able to afford a couple of magazines, health care both inadequate and expensive . . . we forget how very far we've come.

Posted by: Jane Galt on July 7, 2003 10:12 AM

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Part of the problem is that there are way too many people out there who want to become professors. There's nothing near a shortage of such available educators. Thus, it's not surprising that they would be a low-paid profession. The pool of potential professors is both highly available and easily importable.

At best, professors can hope for a middle class lifestyle augmented by consulting fees and publishing royalties from those who are motivated to supplement their income in this way.

Posted by: Dean on July 7, 2003 11:52 AM

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All to be summed up with:

The Academy is for suckers.

Have fun all you wannabe profs.

(former academic, current capitalist).

Posted by: David on July 7, 2003 12:55 PM

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Interesting to see people react to the story as a story about a college professor, or about class relationships.

I see it primarily as a story of how much our standard of living has improved relative to the past. I was struck by this myself when I visited the Frederick Douglass Mansion in Anacostia Park. See http://www.arnoldkling.com/~arnoldsk/aimst3/aimst311.html

By any absolute (i.e., not relative) definition, poverty in America has shrunk from being the norm 100 years ago to being less than 5 percent of the population today.

Posted by: Arnold Kling on July 7, 2003 01:01 PM

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Actually, the line between servants and no-servants, while possibly brightly demarking the middle class, was not otherwise that distinct. Women who had no servants per se would sometimes have "a woman to help with the heavy work". As you see, not even the professor's servants wanted to do the laundry, and in that respect even the servants had servants.

It's kind of funny that Veblen should say that professors, because of their presumably rare and superior gifts, associated with a higher social class than their incomes warranted, rather than explaining why such supposedly rare and superior gifts did not warrant a higher income.

Posted by: Angie Schultz on July 7, 2003 01:11 PM

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J. Distler wrote:
"2) It seems oddly quaint to us that a college professor should have been among this rarified top 1%. I suspect that part of the explanation has to do with the shear rarity of such levels of academic achievement a century ago. Nowadays, nearly everyone graduates from high school, most obtain bachelor's degrees, and some amount of postgraduate education is hardly uncommon. Professors today are just not *that* much better educated than the general population."

Since no one else is going to correct this, I will. First off, Jaques is right in the overall assumption, that education levels in the American populace are generally higher than they were in 1900. But, "nearly everyone" does not graduate high school, about 80% do (my figures come from the 2000 Census), which is pretty good. We could be doing a lot better, many other industrialized countries are.

"Most obtain bachelor's degrees", this is way off. Only about 25% of the population 25 or over has a baccalaureate degree. Of course, to teach in college you usually need at least a Master's, if not a Doctorate. The figures for Master's attainment is not broken out in the census charts I can find, so we have to content ourselves with knowing that about 10% of the population has a Master's, PhD, or other professional degree (M.D., law degree, etc.).

I would also like to comment on Dean's posting about the labor pool for professors. What he says doesn't seem to apply to other professions, like say lawyers. There are lots and lots of people who want to become lawyers, with more coming down the pipes all the time, yet I'd bet on average they make more than professors do.

I'd say it's a lot more about how we, as Americans, just don't really care about educators. We devalue them at all levels, pay them lip-service but aren't willing to put our money where our mouths are, so to speak. Our society has come to a point where it needs an ever-more-educated populace to fill skilled worker positions, but we our labor marketplace system is full of contradictions and inefficiencies. Why else would we pay sports figures ridiculous salries, merely for the ability to whack a small sphere with a stick? Or pay CEO's huge sums, even when the company loses money hand over fist?

Posted by: DoctorG on July 7, 2003 01:20 PM

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I think this article provides a clear example of one of the primary reasons the professoriate has evolved in a decidedly left-wing direction during the past century. Most academics feel themselves to be part of society's elite, yet by standards of pay (with the exceptions noted by Brad above), power, and social prestige, their position has deteriorated with regard to all of these measures during this time period. And a society that will tolerate such injustice, must be a society in need of serious reform. Unable to compete with their presumed peers, or even many presumed inferiors, with regards to money, power, and status, academics adopted new-class, psueudo-aristocratic variants of proletarian snobbery that rejected conventional measures of status and wealth. The true worth of an individual should be measured by aesthetic judgements, the quality of one's consumption, and social conscience. And of course, the kinds of intellectual skills most important to an academic career are the supreme yardstick. Of course, this is a grossly simplified version of the thesis...

Posted by: kh on July 7, 2003 01:43 PM

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I think this article provides a clear example of one of the primary reasons the professoriate has evolved in a decidedly left-wing direction during the past century. Most academics feel themselves to be part of society's elite, yet by standards of pay (with the exceptions noted by Brad above), power, and social prestige, their position has deteriorated with regard to all of these measures during this time period. And a society that will tolerate such injustice, must be a society in need of serious reform. Unable to compete with their presumed peers, or even many presumed inferiors, with regards to money, power, and status, academics adopted new-class, psueudo-aristocratic variants of proletarian snobbery that rejected conventional measures of status and wealth. The true worth of an individual should be measured by aesthetic judgements, the quality of one's consumption, and social conscience. And of course, the kinds of intellectual skills most important to an academic career are the supreme yardstick. Of course, this is a grossly simplified version of the thesis...

Posted by: kh on July 7, 2003 01:44 PM

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GRM is probably George Herbert Mead, a noted philosopher of the period and friend of Dewey, Royce, James, and others. A good bio of him can be found at http://www.utm.edu/research/iep/m/mead.htm, while a good part of the intellectual and social context can be found in Bruce Kuklick's "Rise of American Philosophy." In addition to the students he was teaching and his own social class as the son of a minister, Mead's training in Europe (the clear model for university education at the time) is also an important indicator of the expected social class of university professors. European professors were highly esteemed public servants and the Americans who had done graduate training there not only felt this status was due them, but that it was essential for raising the caliber of intellectual life in America. Graduate training and university teaching are entirely different affairs today - open to anyone but without the expectation of status.

Posted by: Randy Heinig on July 7, 2003 02:00 PM

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By the way, those servants probably lived with them in their largish house. Perhaps a couple of family members did so as well--aunts, uncles, grandparents. They reflect the reality of labor in a society prior to the widespread availability of electricity and running in the home; the amount of labor was such that households were necessarily larger than modern households. It is instructive in this connection to study house designs of the period; even mass-produced craftsman bungalows (lumber companies sold them as kits) had a service entrance and some even had a room for a cook.

The paucity of access to musical performance reflects one of the advantages of living in a major city of the period; the USA had only two major cities at the time and neither had anything like the musical resources of London or Paris. Not mentioned is that many members of the family probably played instruments and did so to entertain each other.

The comparison with the average income tends to reflect the character of that period's income distribution in the USA. It is a pattern we would now recognize as third world. The US was at that time still heavily rural--lots of urban poor, with salaries kept low by new laborers joining the labor market from the farms. This makes the level of GRM's salary to some extent deceptive. That GRM owned income producing property (probably land) and that this was considered normal reflects another difference.

Posted by: Randolph Fritz on July 7, 2003 03:11 PM

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Regarding century-ago lifestyles and living standards -- there was a British tv miniseries (rebroadcast on this side of the Atlantic by PBS) called "1900 House" where a family spent a few months living in a house restored to the 1900 era, attempting to live just as people did in 1900, including food preparation, laundry, bathing, shaving, clothing, etc., etc. It was quite fascinating and eye-opening.

I guess I'm in the same general category as college professors -- doing equivalent level intellectual work (except there are twelve months in my work year; on the other hand, I didn't need a Ph.D. and I don't have to put up with faculty politics) -- for roughly full professor pay (some probably make less, some make more) -- pretty much a middle class intellectual computer geek.

Just compare some of GRM's budget with modern times -- like "postage, stationery, telegrams, telephones, express, freight, cartage, and allied items" -- I grew up in a house with one physical telephone -- it was on a party line and when you picked it up an operator said "Number please" -- Today my house has one telephone "landline" (with three phones on it... and my cable company is my phone company) and my family has four different cell phones -- plus digital tv cable access plus cable internet access (and five computers, four of them connected to the internet via our home LAN) -- so I'm way past two hundred bucks a month for that category (I'm afraid to actually add it all up) compared to GRM's three dollars. And that's not counting today's postage rates... plus FedEx and UPS, etc. (On the other hand, when's the last time you sent a telegram?)

Posted by: Jim on July 7, 2003 03:18 PM

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I'd say it's a lot more about how we, as Americans, just don't really care about educators. We devalue them at all levels, pay them lip-service but aren't willing to put our money where our mouths are, so to speak. Our society has come to a point where it needs an ever-more-educated populace to fill skilled worker positions, but we our labor marketplace system is full of contradictions and inefficiencies. Why else would we pay sports figures ridiculous salries, merely for the ability to whack a small sphere with a stick? Or pay CEO's huge sums, even when the company loses money hand over fist?

Puh-leeze. Can we finally retire this moth-eaten canard?

I'm another ex-academic who has more than a passing familiarity with the university pay situation, and alway find it curious that the self-pity stories tend to omit little details like 2/9 summer support, lavish (yes, lavish) TIAA-CREF retirement benefits, and frequent goodies like sabbaticals and tuition waivers/subsidies for faculty dependents. If you want a good laugh, ask a private sector employer about their "tenure policy."

But that's all beside the point. Are college faculty underpaid? The only objective way to answer the question is to examine the labor supply. And the last time I looked, it was a buyer's market. When I was on the Recruiting Committee for my department at [name of prestigious state university], we would typically get 50-60 applications for a junior tenure-track line position. Of those, 10-12 were sufficiently qualified to extend an offer. Obviously, some were also being sought by other universities, but as a practical matter we recruited knowing that we'd have at least 5 or 6 highly qualified candidates who would immediately jump at an offer.

Fair, shmair. That's life in Big City, USA, Planet Real World. If you think it's outrageous that MLB get paid seven (and eight) figures while benighted holy professors are standing in line down at the soup kitchen, I've got some advice: put down the GRE study guide and learn to hit a curve ball.

Posted by: iowahawk on July 7, 2003 03:25 PM

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Here is another way to look at things. In the last 100 years the dollar has lost 94% of its value, defined as purchasing power. This is a 16-fold inflation.

Multiplying the professor's $2000 salary by 16x converts it to about $32,000 in 2003 money. This works with common expenses. Looking at my grandfather's 1901 expense diaries he listed 50 cents for a haircut -- I got one today for $8. He also bought a "very nice" suit for a $20 gold piece. At today's closing price for gold, that is about $330, almost exactly 16x $20.

$32,000 gross income today represents about the 38th percentile of income, or very close to the boundary between middle class and lower middle class. There is an important difference, however, in that the professor of 1905 did not pay one cent of income tax! At $32K today (s)he might or might not.

The /huge/ difference, however, is in the improvement of the lower classes. The bloke bringing home $490 a month in 1905 is equivalent to $7,840 in today's money. Now that's PO' by anyone's reckoning. So broke they can't even afford the last two letters.

The great success of America has been the substantial improvement for those considered 'poor.' Most 'poor' today drive cars, have televisions, and live in houses far larger and more comfortable than the poor of a century ago.

The simple fact of the matter is that nearly everyone feels (s)he is being paid less than (s)he is really worth. Hasn't changed in a hundred years, and probably not in at least a thousand.

Posted by: Bart Hall (Kansas, USA) on July 7, 2003 03:35 PM

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Here is another way to look at things. In the last 100 years the dollar has lost 94% of its value, defined as purchasing power. This is a 16-fold inflation.

Multiplying the professor's $2000 salary by 16x converts it to about $32,000 in 2003 money. This works with common expenses. Looking at my grandfather's 1901 expense diaries he listed 50 cents for a haircut -- I got one today for $8. He also bought a "very nice" suit for a $20 gold piece. At today's closing price for gold, that is about $330, almost exactly 16x $20.

$32,000 gross income today represents about the 38th percentile of income, or very close to the boundary between middle class and lower middle class. There is an important difference, however, in that the professor of 1905 did not pay one cent of income tax! At $32K today (s)he might or might not.

The /huge/ difference, however, is in the improvement of the lower classes. The bloke bringing home $490 a month in 1905 is equivalent to $7,840 in today's money. Now that's PO' by anyone's reckoning. So broke they can't even afford the last two letters.

The great success of America has been the substantial improvement for those considered 'poor.' Most 'poor' today drive cars, have televisions, and live in houses far larger and more comfortable than the poor of a century ago.

The simple fact of the matter is that nearly everyone feels (s)he is being paid less than (s)he is really worth. Hasn't changed in a hundred years, and probably not in at least a thousand.

Posted by: Bart Hall (Kansas, USA) on July 7, 2003 03:38 PM

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I think maybe I was right awhile back.

Starting to feel the "please sweet Jesus let some of that inflation make it into my paycheck soon" blues?

Posted by: northernLights on July 8, 2003 02:22 PM

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The US has, for the last 40 years, been in the business of importing brains. Big brains.

When I was in grad school at Indiana U the comp sci dept I was in had something like a 20:1 foreign:US grad student ratio, the philosophy dept I was also in was more like 1:1. Many of these students graduate having lived in the US for 7 to 9 years getting a PhD - by then the US is home. And so they stay. Many stay in the academy, some stay in private research firms.

The US profits from this - the US imports many of the best and brightest from around the world. US universities profit from this.

But US academic salaries do not profit from this -they import competition for local US academics. Given a few decades of having double the normal supply of workers for an industry, the standard of salaries will decline.

Sean

Posted by: sean on July 8, 2003 10:16 PM

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"The US has, for the last 40 years, been in the business of importing brains. Big brains."

The trend of the last 40 years is minor compared to the 1930s when we were importing people like Einstien. Perhaps never again will we have a "friend" like Hitler who will give us a gift as golden as the ones he drove into exile. In 1930 there was no question in anyone's mind the German chemical industry was more advanced than America's (any high school kid, like my father, who showed an interest in chemistry was automatically signed up for German language classes). By 1940 the gap had begun to narrow, thanks to the exiles.

Posted by: Lawrence Krubner on July 12, 2003 01:36 PM

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Hi Bart ..
that the magnificent salary I think and for the dreamer in my country home

Posted by: bali on January 9, 2004 08:05 PM

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