Female physicians still paid less than male peers, study finds

As the gender pay gap grows, female doctors’ choices in specialty may be the cause, but their search for work-life balance seems to have no effect.

The gap between a female physician’s starting salary and her male peers continued to grow throughout the 2010s but the factors that lead to the disparity are still unclear, according to a new study released Jan. 22 ahead of publication by Health Affairs.

The authors looked at survey data for graduating medical residents and fellows in New York for the years 1999–2017 and found that the average male’s starting salary was $235,044, while the average woman’s starting salary was $198,426. Over the studied period, the authors found that the gap grew from $24,400 in 1999 to $48,200 in 2017.

They found that about 60 percent of the gap between the two genders in starting pay could be explained by individual choice factors such as specialty and hours spent in patient care. Also, they found that female physicians’ more commonly reported desire to control life-work balance factors like having predictable hours, workday length, overnight on call frequency, and frequency of weekend duty had practically no effect on starting salary, according to the study.

They also found no meaningful link between the pay gap and having young children or being partnered.

“While it is apparent that women say they place a greater premium on control over work-life balance factors, this difference does not appear to explain the observed starting salary difference, conditional on other factors,” the authors write in the study. “There may nevertheless exist workplace biases, whether intentional or unintentional, that differentially affect women irrespective of their individual stated preferences for work-life balance.”

The authors suggest that their findings imply a need for continued vigilance to ensure pay equity with greater transparency in salary determination so that expectations for higher pay are quantifiable.

They also recommend greater education during residency programs about what to expect once graduated and how to negotiate salaries.

“If pay differences are the result of conscious choices, let them at least be well-informed choices,” the authors write.