Teacher Pensions Blog

How many teachers retire each year? That may sound like an easy question to answer (especially for a website called TeacherPensions.org), but it's not quite so easy once you start digging into the numbers. 

There's no national dataset that collects annual data on teacher retirements. The most recent data on retirement from National Center for Education Statistics' Schools and Staffing Survey (SASS) estimated that 269,800 teachers left the classroom in the 2008-9 school year and 27.8 percent of them retired. That gives us a total of 75,004 public school teachers who retired that year, or about 2.2 percent of the 3.4 million teachers nationwide.  

But retirement rates can change. The state of the broader economy, changes in pension plan provisions, working conditions at schools, and personal factors all play a role in teacher retirement decisions. The 2004-5 SASS found that 39.2 percent of teachers who left the profession did so for retirement. That would put the national retirement rate in 2004-5 at 3.3 percent of all public school teachers. By these back-of-the-envelope calculations, the retirement rate of public school teachers seems to have fallen almost 50 percent from 2004-5 to the depths of the 2007-9 recession.

Another way to find an answer to this question is to look at data from state pension plans. Each year, some number of workers retire and begin receiving annual pension payments. The Boston College Center for Retirement Research has data going back more than a decade on the total number of these "annuitants" in each state pension plan. But those figures are a function of the number of new annuitants, minus any beneficiaries who pass away. They don't give us a perfectly accurate number of new retirees. 

We can turn to individual state pension plans to find more data. Pension plans typically report how many workers retire each year, as well as their average pension. We could find the teacher pension plan in each state and dig out this information. But there are issues here as well. Because teachers are typically enrolled in pension plans with all education workers, including principals, school support staff, and district personnel, the plan's new retirees would include more than just teachers. (Some states put teachers into pension plans with other state workers, college and university employees, or other public employees. The numbers would be even more distorted in those states.)  

We'll be doing more research on this going forward. In the meantime, use the SASS data for national estimates or look to state pension plans, with the above caveats in mind.