Teacher shortage

OECD Directorate for Employment, Labour and Social Affairs

Education is the cornerstone of the knowledge-based society. But will quality teachers be available to provide it, or is the profession cracking under the strain of low salaries, an ageing workforce and demand for ever more complex teaching abilities? 

The teaching workforce is ageing. A considerable number of countries already have an old teaching force, with 49% of teachers in upper secondary education in Sweden aged 50 and over. Moreover, recent signs point to a worsening of the situation in several other countries, such as Germany and New Zealand.

Already the teaching profession must compete for a shrinking pool of young talent, at a time when the attractiveness of school-level teaching as a career is declining. Teachers are typically being asked to do more work for less reward. Salaries are falling compared with other professions while our knowledge-based societies are placing new demands on teachers’ abilities, such as mastering information and communications technology (ICT) as part of their core teaching requirements. Faced with these problems, ensuring that there will be enough skilled teachers to educate all children becomes an issue of major importance to policymakers.

Ageing of the teaching workforce has several effects. First, it raises costs without resolving the problem of low entry salaries as, with incremental salary scales, a higher average age for teachers leads to a greater overall wage bill. Second, the need to adapt current teachers to meet the new challenges is likely to require more resources. Finally, and most importantly, the future teacher supply is likely to be affected as proportionately more teachers retire in any given year.

The worst-case scenario of severe teacher shortages in the near future is laid out in “Teacher Exodus – The Meltdown scenario” in the OECD’s Education Policy Analysis 2001. It posits widespread public dissatisfaction with the state of education in the face of a deep teacher-recruitment crisis and a growing sense of declining standards, especially in the worst affected areas. But the immediate effect of a shortage is more likely to be a lower quality of teachers and teaching than a dramatic tale of classrooms full of uninstructed pupils. In the short term, the main mechanism used to balance supply and demand is to relax qualification requirements. Alternatively, demand can be reduced and brought into line with available supply by increasing teachers’ workloads or class sizes. In either case, quality suffers.

Ageing is not the only problem. Many of those who do decide to join the teaching profession leave for other jobs long before reaching retirement age. There are strong suggestions (Ingersoll, 2001, see references) that while retirement is still not a prominent factor behind teacher turnover, keeping teachers in the profession is a grave problem.

Governments need to act now to make the profession more attractive. Specific policies affecting financial incentives, working conditions and professional development are needed if serious shortages are to be avoided. It would be unfortunate if the demand for quality in today’s school systems and indeed the pressing demands of knowledge-based economies were to be subverted by teacher shortages.

Gender is also an issue here. Women still dominate the profession in primary and lower secondary schools, with 88% of the primary teaching force in New Zealand being female. In no country is the proportion of women decreasing, and if anything the overall trend is upward. The pattern is reversed in upper secondary schools in many countries, with women in Korea, for example accounting for only 27% of the teaching force. But the overall gender imbalance in the profession translates into what many educators consider an inadequate presence of male role models. This is compounded by the fact that recruitment practices are limited in their scope, perpetuating the predominant presence of women. Improving the status of the profession would attract more men back into education. In fact, this would have the added benefit of encouraging a flow of talent – men and women – from other professions into teaching, reversing the outflow we see now.


• Denton, F.T., Feaver C.H., and Spencer, B.G., “Teachers and the birth rate: The Demographic dynamics of a population”, Journal of Population Economics, 1994.

• Ingersoll, R.M., “A Different Approach to Solving the Teacher Shortage Problem”, Teaching Quality Policy Briefs, University of Washington, 2001.

• OECD, Education Policy Analysis, 2001.

©OECD Observer No 225, March 2001

Economic data

GDP growth: +0.6% Q1 2019 year-on-year
Consumer price inflation: 2.3% May 2019 annual
Trade: +0.4% exp, -1.2% imp, Q1 2019
Unemployment: 5.2% July 2019
Last update: 8 July 2019

OECD Observer Newsletter

Stay up-to-date with the latest news from the OECD by signing up for our e-newsletter :

Twitter feed

Subscribe now

<b>Subscribe now!</b>

To order your own paper editions,email Observer@OECD.org

Online edition
Previous editions

Don't miss

  • MCM logo
  • The following communiqué and Chair’s statement were issued at the close of the OECD Council Meeting at Ministerial level, this year presided by the Slovak Republic.
  • Food production will suffer some of the most immediate and brutal effects of climate change, with some regions of the world suffering far more than others. Only through unhindered global trade can we ensure that high-quality, nutritious food reaches those who need it most, Angel Gurría, Secretary-General of the OECD, and José Graziano da Silva, Director-General of the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, write in their latest Project Syndicate article. Read the article here.
  • Globalisation will continue and get stronger, and how to harness it is the great challenge, says OECD Secretary-General Gurría on Bloomberg TV. Watch the interview here.
  • OECD Secretary-General Angel Gurría with UN Secretary-General António Guterres at the 73rd Session of the UN General Assembly, in New York City.
  • The new OECD Observer Crossword, with Myles Mellor. Try it online!
  • Listen to the "Robots are coming for our jobs" episode of The Guardian's "Chips with Everything podcast", in which The Guardian’s economics editor, Larry Elliott, and Jeremy Wyatt, a professor of robotics and artificial intelligence at the University of Birmingham, and Jordan Erica Webber, freelance journalist, discuss the findings of the new OECD report "Automation, skills use and training". Listen here.
  • Do we really know the difference between right and wrong? Alison Taylor of BSR and Susan Hawley of Corruption Watch tell us why it matters to play by the rules. Watch the recording of our Facebook live interview here.
  • Has public decision-making been hijacked by a privileged few? Watch the recording of our Facebook live interview with Stav Shaffir, MK (Zionist Union) Chair of the Knesset Committee on Transparency here.
  • Can a nudge help us make more ethical decisions? Watch the recording of our Facebook live interview with Saugatto Datta, managing director at ideas42 here.
  • The fight against tax evasion is gaining further momentum as Barbados, Côte d’Ivoire, Jamaica, Malaysia, Panama and Tunisia signed the BEPS Multilateral Convention on 24 January, bringing the total number of signatories to 78. The Convention strengthens existing tax treaties and reduces opportunities for tax avoidance by multinational enterprises.
  • Globalisation’s many benefits have been unequally shared, and public policy has struggled to keep up with a rapidly-shifting world. The OECD is working alongside governments and international organisations to help improve and harness the gains while tackling the root causes of inequality, and ensuring a level playing field globally. Please watch.
  • Checking out the job situation with the OECD scoreboard of labour market performances: do you want to know how your country compares with neighbours and competitors on income levels or employment?
  • Trade is an important point of focus in today’s international economy. This video presents facts and statistics from OECD’s most recent publications on this topic.
  • The OECD Gender Initiative examines existing barriers to gender equality in education, employment, and entrepreneurship. The gender portal monitors the progress made by governments to promote gender equality in both OECD and non-OECD countries and provides good practices based on analytical tools and reliable data.
  • Interested in a career in Paris at the OECD? The OECD is a major international organisation, with a mission to build better policies for better lives. With our hub based in one of the world's global cities and offices across continents, find out more at www.oecd.org/careers .
  • Visit the OECD Gender Data Portal. Selected indicators shedding light on gender inequalities in education, employment and entrepreneurship.

Most Popular Articles

OECD Insights Blog

NOTE: All signed articles in the OECD Observer express the opinions of the authors
and do not necessarily represent the official views of OECD member countries.

All rights reserved. OECD 2019