Female physicians earn $56k less per year than males, study says

September 6, 2013

Although significant gains have been made in closing the wage gap between men and women, a recent study suggests that female physicians still earn significantly less than their male counterparts.

 

Although significant gains have been made in closing the wage gap between men and women, a recent study suggests that female physicians still earn significantly less than their male counterparts.

The study, published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), found that between 1987-1990, male physicians earned $33,840 (20%) more than females. Between 1996-2000, males earned $34,620 (20%) more, and between 2006-2010 that gap increased to $56,019 (25.3%).

Anupam B. Jena, MD, PhD, one of the co-authors of the study, says the results are surprising.

“Females are playing an increasingly large role in the overall physician workforce, and because of that we expected that any gaps that may have existed in the 1980s would have closed by now,” he says “But what we found is that the gap is essentially the same.”

But the results lead to questions that need to be explored through additional research, Dr. Jena says.

“We don’t expect these results to be the end all, be all, that female physicians are being discriminated against in the workplace,” he says. “That’s not what we want to say. But there are some open questions that our results suggest.”

Although the study adjusted for age, sex, race, state and hours worked, it did not account for specialty, which the researchers did not have access to. Dr. Jena says that has been a criticism of the paper because female physicians are more likely to dominate certain specialties, such as pediatrics, which may pay lower than male-dominated specialties, such as orthopedic surgery.

But the study raises the question of whether that is a matter or preference or a matter or unequal opportunity for female physicians.

“Is it because female physicians like pediatrics because of the lifestyle and because they like the longitudinal relationship that they can build with the children over the years? Or is it because they perceive orthopedic surgery as a heavily male-dominated field? Those two explanations have very different implications,” he says

“If this is simply a matter of preference, then that’s perfect,” he says. “But if it’s the result of implicit biases or perceptions on the part of women that these other fields are either not accessible or not going to be fulfilling because they’re male dominated, then that raises questions about what we should be doing to increase opportunities in those fields.”

Dr. Jena says about 50% of U.S. medical school graduates are now women, so it’s likely that a shift in the workforce may lead to more female physicians in specialties that are currently dominated by male physicians.

But he says an active change to the gender wage gap may occur if institutions follow the lead of some academic medical institutions, and they conduct salary surveys in an effort to equalize income. 

“If we increase opportunities and females still make the same decisions, that’s fine,” Dr. Jena says. “But what we don’t want to do is chalk this up to females working fewer hours or not wanting to work in orthopedic surgery or radiology.”