Study finds growing gender cap in physicians' starting salaries

February 9, 2011

Women starting out in medicine are being paid significantly less than their male counterparts, and the gap has been growing, according to a study published in the February issue of Health Affairs.

Women starting out in medicine are being paid significantly less than their male counterparts, and the gap has been growing, according to a study published in the February issue of Health Affairs.

After adjusting for gender differences in determinants of salary such as specialty, number of hours worked, and practice type, newly-trained female physicians earned $16,819 less than men in 2008. In 1999, the difference was $3,600.

The authors based their conclusions on survey data from 4,918 men and 3,315 women exiting training programs in New York State, which is home to the most residency programs and resident physicians in the country.In unadjusted terms, average physician salaries in 2008 were $174,000 and $209,300 for women and men, respectively, a difference of 16.8%. That compares to a difference of 12.5% in 1999, when average salaries were $151,600 for women and $173,400 for men.

“It is not surprising to say that women physicians make less than male physicians because women traditionally choose lower-paying jobs in primary care fields or they choose to work fewer hours,” says Anthony Lo Sasso, professor and senior research scientist at the School of Public Health at the University of Illinois at Chicago, and lead author of the study. “What is surprising is that even when we account for specialty and hours and other factors, we see this growing unexplained gap in starting salaries. The same gap exists for women in primary as it does in specialty fields.”

LoSasso believes the salary differentials may be due in part to the fact that women physicians are seeking greater flexibility and family-friendly benefits, such as not being on call after certain hours. He suggests that women may be negotiating these conditions of employment at the same time they are negotiating their starting salaries.

An abstract of the study can be viewed at http://content.healthaffairs.org/content/30/2/193.abstract.