Vital Signs Blog

Researchers find $56K pay gap for female docs

Though the gender earnings gap has been narrowing across most professions, sharp salary inequities persist among physicians, according to a research letter published in JAMA Internal Medicine.

Researchers analyzed data—occupation, hours worked, annual earnings, age, sex and race—from the March Current Population Survey to identify trends in male and female pay among physicians, other healthcare professionals and workers overall. Adjusting for differences in hours worked and years of experience so as not to overstate the earnings gap, they sampled more than 1.3 million people, including 6,258 physicians and 31,857 other healthcare workers, across three time periods (1987-1990, 1996-2000, 2006-2010).

What they found is that while the gender earnings gap has decreased outside the healthcare industry, no real progress had been made in medicine. In the first time period (1987-1990), male physicians earned $33,840, or 20%, more than female physicians. In 1996-2000, the gap was $34,620, or 16.3%. And in 2006-2010, male physicians made $56,019, or 25.3%, more per year than their female counterparts.

As Dr. Molly Cooke of the University of California San Francisco wrote in an invited commentary to the JAMA report, “At $56,019 per year, the difference is consequential; multiplied over a 30- or 40-year professional lifetime, it is huge. Why does this continue to happen?”

Though the report does not provide an explanation, Cooke pointed to several factors that have been used to explain the discrepancy, including the likelihood that a woman will work fewer hours than a man, that a woman will take more time per patient than a male doctor will, and that women choose different and lower-paying specialties. However, the report indicates that recent studies suggest gender differences in earnings still exist even when adjustments are made for these factors.

“While it is important to study gender differences in earnings after accounting for factors such as specialty choice and practice type, it is equally important to understand overall unadjusted gender differences in earnings,” research author Seth Seabury of the University of Southern California Los Angeles wrote. “This is because specialty and practice choices may be due to not only preferences of female physicians but also unequal opportunities.”

Follow Rachel Landen on Twitter: @MHrlanden


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