Expert Commentary

Gender differences in the salaries of physician researchers

2012 study in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) highlighting the differences in pay among male and female members of the medical profession.

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According to the U.S. Census Bureau, women earn as little as 77 cents for every dollar that men do. Although there is nuance in this “pay gap” data, there is nevertheless general empirical evidence that gender discrimination remains in place across the American economy. Within a highly specialized profession, like medicine, how large is the pay gap between male and female physicians who share the same rank, experience and specialty?

A 2012 study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, “Gender Differences in the Salaries of Physician Researchers,” used a U.S. nationwide survey of 800 physicians to determine the differences in salaries by gender among this profession and the possible explanations for such disparities.

The study’s findings include:

  • Among of 800 physicians at a variety of ranks and in a variety of specialties, the mean salary was self-reported at $167,669 for women and $200,433 for men — 16% less for female physician researchers.
  • The gap is partly explained by the fact that women tended to be working in lower-paying specialties, with 34% of women and only 22% of men in the lowest-paying category, and only 3% of women but 11% of men in the highest-paying category.
  • After accounting for variables of specialization, academic rank, leadership positions, publications and research time, the effect of being male on a physician’s salary was associated with an annual increase of $13,399.
  • Overall, if every other variable were held constant for female physicians and only their gender changed, they could expect an increase in annual salary of $12,194; this gender-effect alone accounts for 37.4% of the total observed difference in pay between men and women in the medical profession.

The authors conclude that the “evidence that gender differences in compensation continue to exist in academic medicine, even among a select cohort of physician researchers whose job content is far more similar than in cohorts previously studied, and even after controlling extensively for specialization and productivity. [However], efforts to investigate the mechanisms by which these gender differences develop and ways to mitigate their effects merit continued attention.”

Tags: inequality, women and work

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