The earnings gap between male and female physicians has persisted during the past 20 years, even when adjusted for part-time vs. full-time schedules and years of experience, a study found.
Researchers applied data on more than 1.3 million people from the Current Population Survey from 1987 to 2010, including for nearly 6,300 doctors and nearly 32,000 other health care workers. Results appeared in a research letter published online at JAMA Internal Medicine.
Female physicians in the survey increased from 10.3% in 1987-1990 to 28.4% in 2006-2010. Adjusted earnings of male physicians in 1987-1990 was 20% more than female ones ($33,840) and the pay gap did not significantly close up during that time ($34,620 [16.3%] in 1996-2000, P=.65 compared with 1987-1990 vs. $56,019 [25.3%] in 2006-2010, P=.46 compared with 1987-1990).
Researchers noted that the earnings gap for registered nurses and pharmacists was smaller than for physicians and for workers overall, and it fell over time, while dentists, physician assistants and health care executives had a greater gender gap than for workers in a non-health care occupation. The pay gap closed up only for health care executives.
They wrote, “While it is important to study gender differences in earnings after accounting for factors such as specialty choice and practice type, it is equally important to understand overall unadjusted gender differences in earnings. This is because specialty and practice choices may be due to not only preferences of female physicians but also unequal opportunities. For example, are unadjusted earnings differences between male and female physicians due to a preference of female physicians for lower-paying specialties (eg, pediatrics or primary care) or do female physicians have less opportunity to enter higher paying specialties despite having similar preferences as male physicians?”
In an invited commentary, Molly Cooke, MD, FACP, (ACP’s current president) recalled a salary equity study she participated in nearly a quarter-century ago. One important point she noted in pay inequities was that women were less likely to discuss starting salary packages or career progress. In instances where women’s salaries were comparable to men, it was because they were married to another physician within the same health system.
Dr. Cooke wrote, “There is no good reason for why this inequity persists among physician and other health care professionals. To end this inequity we must promote transparency in salary arrangements, assist women in developing the confidence and skills to negotiate for what they are due, and, most importantly, strengthen our commitment to fairness in the workplace.”