The gender wage gap is a well documented phenomenon in the business world. But it may surprise you to learn that physicians are not immune to gender biased salary distribution. A recent University of Michigan Health System study has shown that female doctors are likely to earn over $350,000 less over the course of their careers than male doctors doing the same work, even after controlling for multiple factors including specialty and work hours. That’s enough to pay for a large house, annual luxury vacations, a lifetime of vehicles, early retirement, or an entire college education!
Published last week in the Journal of the American Medical Association by physician researcher Reshma Jagsi, the study followed 800 physicians who received competitive federal research grants starting in 2000 and followed them until mid-career. The results were shocking.
Looking at the overall picture, the average annual salary was $200,422 for men and $167,669 for women — a difference of $32,764 per year, Jagsi and her colleagues noted. To put the disparity into perspective, consider that $32,764 is more than the average annual salary of a high school graduate in America ($31,539).
When one factors in specialty, academic rank, leadership positions, publishing record and research time, and marital status and children, the big picture looks even bleaker. For example:
- Women tended to be in lower-paying specialties, with 34 per cent of women and 22 per cent of men in the lowest-paying category.
- Women were less likely to hold administrative leadership positions (10 per cent versus 16 per cent).
- Women had fewer published articles (average of 27 versus 33).
- Women worked fewer hours (average, 58 versus 63 hours).
This particular wage disparity is particularly unsettling when you consider that the field of healthcare is essentially (ideally) a meritocracy. The number of years of education and medical school training, whether one can perform a surgery, correctly prescribe medication, and improve the health and well-being of a patient… these are factors that are important to consider in the compensation rates for physicians.
As Dr. Peter Ubel of Duke University, one of the study’s senior authors put it, “A person’s salary should not depend upon whether they have a Y chromosome.”