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Women Doctors Face $17,000 Pay Gap

Women Doctors Face $17,000 Pay Gap


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By Rachel Emma Silverman

Starting salaries of new physicians reveal a growing gender gap.

Newly-trained women doctors are being paid significantly lower salaries –about $17,000 less — than their male counterparts, found a new study published in theFebruary issue of Health Affairs. The pay disparity exists even after the researchers accounted for factors such as medical specialty, hours worked and practice type. Women had lower starting salaries than men in nearly all specialties, the researchers found.

The gap has been growing steadily in recent decades, to $16,819 in 2008, from just $3,600 in 1999.  The pay disparity exists even as women now comprise nearly half of all U.S. medical students.

In 1999, new women doctors earned $151,600, on average, compared to $173,400 for men  – a 12.5% salary difference. In 2008, that salary difference widened by nearly 17%, with women starting out at $174,000, compared to $209,300 for men. (These are average salary figures, across all specialties.)

Anthony Lo Sasso, the lead researcher on the study, and a professor at the School of Public Health at the University of Illinois at Chicago, said the pay gap may exist because women doctors are seeking greater flexibility and family-friendly benefits, such as not being on call after certain hours. Women may be negotiating these work conditions at the same time that they are negotiating their starting salaries.The researchers haven’t ruled out other possible factors, such as an increase in gender discrimination or women being less effective than men at negotiating pay.

Lo Sasso added that doctors need to further understand and address this gender gap, and reconsider pay and working arrangement for providers, particularly in primary care.

“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,” said Lo Sasso. “What is surprising is that even when we account for specialty and hours and other factors, we see this growing unexplained gap in starting salary.  The same gap exists for women in primary care as it does in specialty fields.”

Historically, women have disproportionately flocked to primary-care fields such as internal medicine, family practice or pediatrics. But in recent years, the percentage of women entering primary care fell from nearly 50% in 1999  to just over 30% in 2008. Despite entering higher-paying specialties, the widening pay gap persisted, the researchers found.  For instance, female heart surgeons earned $27,103 less, on average, than men, while females specializing in pulmonary disease earned an average $44,320 less than men.

The authors studied survey data from doctors exiting training programs in New York state, home to more medical residents than any other state in the country. The survey sampled 4,918 men and 3,315 women.

Readers, what’s your take on this gender gap? If you are a physician, do you see this pay disparity in the field? Do you think it should hurt your salary if you also negotiate for more family-friendly working arrangements?


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