Study: Starting pay differences reduce earning potential for women in academic medicine

After 10 years women’s median earnings are 9% less than men’s.

Nearly all women in academic medicine start out at lower salaries than their male counterparts. But that early disparity also leads to significant gender-based differences in income and net worth for at least a decade, according to a new study.

For the study, researchers examined compensation data for about 25,000 female and 30,000 male academic physicians across 45 subspecialties from 2019 to 2020. They found that women’s estimated starting salaries were lower than men’s in 42 of them, with a median difference of $26,800, or 10%. After 10 years women had lower salaries in 43 of the subspecialities, with the median difference being $22,890, or 9%.

In addition, women had lower earning potential, as measured in 10-year net present value, in 43 of the subspecialties. The only exceptions were in pediatric nephrology and pediatric rheumatology.

The study found a slightly more positive picture for women in terms of mean annual salary growth rates, where theirs were higher rates in 23 of the 45 subspecialties.Differences ranged from 1.2% higher for women to 3.1% higher for men.

The authors add that while their study focused on gender-based pay disparities within subspecialties, other studies have shown significant differences between subspecialties, with those that are female-predominant experiencing a relative decline in compensation compared to those in which men predominate.

The authors recommend equalizing starting salaries, rather than annual salary growth rates, as the most effective method for addressing gender-based disparities in early career earning potential. That’s especially the case since new faculty members, in theory, should have little besides their gender to differentiate them.

They also suggest that schools institute “periodic compensation evaluations and adjustments” as a way of preventing gender-based disparities in career earnings, and correcting existing gender-based salary inequities for women already well into their careers.

Finally, they say, medical schools and postgraduate training programs can help women improve their career finances by teaching negotiation skills and financial literacy, They add, however, that “the onus for ensuring salary equity should not fall on the individual candidate alone; rather, departmental and hospital leadership should take responsibility to ensure uniform starting salaries and prevent gender-based inequalities.”

The study, “Addressing Gender-Based Disparities in Earning Potential in Academic Medicine” was published February 18 in JAMA Network Open