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Aside: Rich Professors?—Not Compared To The Really Rich

September 21, 2007

I read in this morning’s Chicago Tribune that even billionaires can’t make Forbes magazine’s list of the 400 richest people. The story relayed the following:

– “The minimum net worth for inclusion in this year’s rankings, released Thursday, was $1.3 billion, up $300 million from last year. The new threshold meant 82 of America’s billionaires didn’t make the cut.”

Pity! Here’s what the story—originally for AP—had to say about Illinois’s contributions to the 400:

– “There were 18 Illinois billionaires on the list, led by Sam Zell, the real estate tycoon who is trying to take Chicago Tribune owner Tribune Co. private, with an estimated net worth of $6 billion. He was followed by Lester Crown and family, at $4.5 billion, and Beanie Babies magnate Ty Warner, at $4.1 billion. Others include Kenneth Griffin, six Pritzker family members, Oprah Winfrey, William Wrigley Jr. and Patrick Ryan.”

I highlight the Forbes list not to feed any frenzy about hating the rich. It’s more about my amazement with the numbers. How so? When I think of my doctoral colleagues who are pursuing careers in the humanities, the income disparity is staggering—even for those who attain, for a short period of time, the lofty status of full professor. Here’s the generous, approximate math as I see it:

– Income before attaining assistant professor status (age 22-35): $25,000 per year—assuming a few full-time jobs, part-time jobs, assistantships, etc. = $325,000
– Loan debt from undergrad and graduate education = $50,000
– Total income as an asst. professor(age 35-42): $45,000 per year = $315,000
– As an associate professor (age 42-50): $70,000 per year = $560,000
– As a professor (age 50-65): $100,000 per year = 1.5 million
– As emeritus professor (>age 65-70): $5000 per course, maybe, and 2-4 courses per year—let’s assume 4 per year = $100,000
Optimistic lifetime bottom line in the Academy = $2,750,000

It’s not that 2.8 million isn’t a lot, but considering how professors are viewed status-wise, the money doesn’t compare. That’s 0.275% of a billionaire’s net worth. Amazing.

The status and pay of professors aside, I wonder how the Forbes 400 cohort invests their income charitably? I also wonder how much they actually contribute in taxes? – TL


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  1. The only remedy is to read Bourdieu and gloat about how Professor's have cultural capital


  2. This article is so stupid. The writer is a typical academic living in a bubble.

    Professors comparing income to Billionaire business people? Why even make the comparison, is apples vs. oranges. Any profession would seem insignicant compared to such staggering wealth.
    The Billionaires CREATED something and took a RISK. Being a Professor in itself means nothing except they took tests and wrote on paper – they added nothing to society.
    Professors, enjoy the lifestyle you have – being above the materialistic rat race is a blessing. But don't think you have any right to more money. That must be earned by CREATING and RISK. Entitlement is a welfare, socialist mentality.


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