Survey of pay for doctors working in US medical schools shows a gender gap that could see female doctors losing out by around $1 million by retirement age
Female doctors in the US are paid nearly $20,000 a year less than their male colleagues, even after factors such as age and years of experience are taken into account, according to a study of medical pay.
The research looked at the gender pay gap among over 10,000 academic doctors working in publicly funded US medical schools across a wide range of specialties.
The results show that female doctors earn, on average, around $50,000 a year less than male doctors, with the pay gap at nearly $20,000 after factors such as age, years of experience and specialty are taken into account.
Although we were not surprised by the findings of our study, they are nonetheless deeply concerning, said Anupam B. Jena, first author of the research from Harvard Medical School.
The fact that men and women in academic medicine who perform similar work are paid different amounts not only has implications for equity but for efficiency; i.e. how can we expect to continue to attract the most talented women into the field if we dont fix this issue? said Jena.
Diana Lautenberger, director of women in medicine and science at the Association of American Medical Colleges said such salary analyses are important part of the discussion around gender equality.
Based on these figures, a woman could be looking at a difference of around $1 million by the time she retires, she said. I would encourage future studies to start disaggregating these data by other demographic factors so we can see where these issues impact specific communities.
Published in the journal JAMA Internal Medicine by researchers at Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School, the study drew upon publicly available salary information for 10,241 academic doctors working at 24 public medical schools across 12 US states.
The researchers matched this data with information from a US-wide database that provided details on each doctors sex, age, academic position, specialty and experience, as well as information relating to the amount of clinical work and research carried out, such as number of scientific publications.
When the researchers compared the salaries of male and female doctors, they found that while male doctors earned, on average, an annual salary of $257,957, female doctors took home just $206,641.
The average female physician earns about $50,000 less than the average male physician, but thats before you start to account for any differences between male and female doctors, said Jena. Among these differences were the findings that female doctors were typically younger, less likely to be full professors, and have fewer scientific publications than men.
However, when the researchers took into account a range of factors including each doctors medical specialty, seniority, age, research productivity and amount of work with patients, women were still found to earn less than men, with the pay gap at $19,878.
While gender pay gaps were found at all levels of academia, the situation was found to be most pronounced for doctors at the top of the academic ladder, with the typical salary for a female full professor on a par with that of a male colleague one professional rung below.
Whats more, the researchers found that the size of the pay gap varied between institutions and medical specialties. While female orthopaedic surgeons take home, on average, nearly $41,000 less than their male counterparts after accounting for multiple factors, the pay gap for internal medicine was $16,159.
It suggests that there is something not just at the institutional level that could be driving these gaps, but there may be something more systematic about the types of doctors who are in certain specialists and the cultures in those specialities, said Jena.
While the research does not reveal what is driving the gender pay gap, Jena believes it could be down to several factors, from men potentially being more likely to negotiate for higher salaries, to the possibility that there is overt discrimination against women.
But, he says, the new research could help to tackle the issue. Because we used data that was publicly available, it really highlights the idea that transparency could play a transformative role in dealing with this issue, he said. Not only can female doctors look up what their male counterparts are earning, he added, but medical schools can be held to account for their gender pay gaps.
Lautenberger said she was not surprised by the results, but that they add further context to the barriers female doctors face.
Institutions are paying more attention to this issue and we have become sophisticated enough with the data to challenge commonly cited reasons for the persistent salary gap – that women enter lower paying specialties or they work less hours, to name a few – but we can see from these numbers that men out-earn women in all fields, she said.
Jane Dacre, professor of medical education at University College London and president of the UKs Royal College of Physicians, described the results as concerning.
Once again another study highlights that women are losing out to men when it comes to pay, she said.
While the study focuses on the gender pay gap in the US, Dacre believes there are also lessons to be learnt for the UK.
We need employers and organisations such as the NHS to support women in the workplace, throughout their career, encouraging them to stay in the NHS to continue to deliver high-quality care for patients, she said.