Study reveals gender pay gap in new doctors

Did you know that a woman heart surgeon earns about $27, 000 less per year than a male one? That’s according to a new study, published in this month’s issue of Health Affairs. The study finds a gender pay gap of almost $17, 000 among new doctors, a gap that has been widening over the last decade.

As the Wall Street Journal’s Juggle blog reports, the gender pay gap between new doctors, across all specialties, widened by 17% in 2008. That’s up from a 12.5% gap in 1999. Today, new women doctors make $174, 000 a year, while men make $209, 300. And while those are admittedly both large salaries, when you have between $150, 000 and $200, 000 in student loan debt to pay off, every percentage point counts. A pay gap this wide will mean that women doctors are in debt considerably longer than are their male counterparts.

What’s most disheartening about this finding is that the gap has been widening even as women have begun entering high-paying specialties at a higher rate than ever. “Historically,” Rachel Emma Silverman writes, “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.”

The Juggle quotes the study’s lead author, Anthony Lo Sasso of the University of Illinois at Chicago, who attributes the gap to a number of factors. According to him, gender discrimination hasn’t been ruled out as a possible cause of the gap, but it might also exist “because women doctors are seeking greater flexibility and family-friendly benefits, such as not being on call after certain hours.” Lo Sasso also notes that women might be negotiating less when they are hired and establish their salaries.

To which I would say, dude, the reason women are seeking greater flexibility and shorter work hours is because they’re probably still expected to be primary caregivers and do most of the housework in their families, even though they work in the highly demanding field of cutting people open and saving lives. While the pay gap might not be the direct result of people deciding to pay women less than they pay men, let’s not kid ourselves: a situation in which women are more likely to seek family-friendly work arrangements is the result of gender discrimination.

As for that negotiating issue? That’s also a discrimination problem. If a woman grows up in a culture that teaches her not to ask for what she wants or that tells her she’s worth less than her male counterparts, it’s hardly surprising that, when the opportunity arises for her to ask to be paid more, she will not take it. So while in this case (as in most),the pay gap probably isn’t attributable to direct gender discrimination. But we shouldn’t pretend that it’s not the result of sexism, either.

Any doctors out there want to weigh in on this issue? I’d love to hear from you about what you think might be causing the gender pay gap in your profession, and how you think it might be solved.

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2 Comments

  1. Posted February 4, 2011 at 12:45 pm | Permalink

    Tell you what. Next time I see my doctor, I’ll do my best to ask. She may answer or she may not, because she’s usually so focused on her job responsibilities. If I do glean something interesting, I’ll report back.

  2. Posted February 5, 2011 at 1:37 pm | Permalink

    This is very interesting, I always assumed that the pay gap in men vs. women was attributable to direct gender discrimination but I never thought of the indirect ways it related to sexism though. Women obviously want more family friendly working conditions because they are forced to because they are expected to be the main caretaker of the family. And obviously women aren’t going to negotiate their pay as well as men do because most women have been led to believe that their voice doesn’t have as much power as men’s voice and that men are superior to them. I wonder if things will ever change in this area..

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