Life is a bit different in the science and engineering schools, but this essay does a pretty good job of explaining why I didn't become a professor.
Take the issue of money--always a good place to begin with things American. Academics outside business and the sciences often labor for many long years in college and graduate school in order to obtain a doctorate. More than a few collect their diplomas sporting some gray in their hair along with a briefcase full of debts. If we are lucky enough to land a tenure-track position in higher education, a large "if" over the last four decades, we frequently start at a salary that a skilled blue collar worker might expect a few years out of high school. Don't think about salaries at Harvard; consult the data on most academics published in the Chronicle of Higher Education. A friend's son, a brand new pharmacist, recently started work at a local drug store with a salary that exceeded my University of Wisconsin System salary when I retired as a full professor.
Serious economic problems face the glowing, self-confident scholar with little money. How, for example, is he able to find adequate housing? Even US$300,000, well beyond the reach of most young and many senior professors, won't buy much in Boston, New York, Los Angeles, New Orleans, Atlanta or Chicago, not to mention Madison, Sarasota, Ann Arbor, Palo Alto or Santa Barbara. The affluent suburbs, where the successful in other fields gather, are out of the question, of course. And so many of us move into older, deteriorating, often dangerous areas, telling all who listen that we made the choice deliberately and that we, being humanists, have a natural desire to live among the poor and oppressed. In my experience, some English and anthropology professors actually believe this nonsense, and enjoy dressing as factory workers and displaying furniture obviously purchased at a rummage sale.
Hey, don't knock rummage sales! But anyway, yeah, this is spot-on.