New federal requirements aimed at revealing wage inequalities could have significant implications for the healthcare industry, which is made up largely of female workers who historically have been paid less than their male counterparts.
President Barack Obama announced on Friday that the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission will begin requiring companies that employ 100 or more people to report wage information that includes gender, race and ethnicity.
Women account for nearly 79% of the healthcare and social assistance workforce and about 76% of hospital employees are women, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
And according to the White House Council of Economic Advisers, women make up about 47% of the overall workforce but the typical woman working full-time all year earns about 21% less than the typical man.
Female physicians in the U.S. earned about $50,000 less than male physicians annually, according to a 2013 study in JAMA Internal Medicine. Another JAMA study from last March found that although women dominate the nursing field, they still make on average $5,100 less a year than men in similar positions. That wage gap narrowed in the 1990s and grew again after 2000.
A 2014 report from the Center for American Progress found physicians and surgeons among the top 10 occupations with the worst wage gap.
The difference has often been attributed to women's tendency to enter the lower-paying primary care field, work fewer hours, or take maternity leave during periods of their careers when wages often peak.
More worrisome for women entering or trying to advance in healthcare, the industry appears to be deviating from a national trend to close the gender wage gap.
The Pew Research Center's data on workers' hourly earnings show that a 36-cent pay gap in 1980 shrunk to a 16-cent gap in 2015.
Among male and female physician assistants, however, a 7% wage gap between 1987 and 1990 jumped to 30% between 2006 and 2010.
Obama presented the new rule on the seventh anniversary of signing the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, which gives people more time to file legal complaints of wage bias.
Comments on the rule will be accepted until April 1. The reporting requirements would go into effect in September 2017. No congressional approval is required.
The rule is likely to receive public support. A Kaiser Family Foundation poll released this week found that 70% of women and 61% of all respondents said the government should take a more active role to ensure equal pay for men and women doing the same job.
A 2014 Gallup poll found that equal pay was seen as the top issue facing working women with 40% of those asked naming it as the biggest concern.