Study Shows Male Doctors Earn More Money Than Female Doctors

June 21, 2012

Prof Peter Ubel: "Salary should not depend upon whether someone has a Y chromosome."

DURHAM, N.C. -- Male doctors make $12,000 more per year than their female counterparts, even when factoring in medical specialty, title, work hours, productivity and a host of other factors, according to a comprehensive new analysis from researchers at the University of Michigan Health System and Duke University.

Results of the study appear in the June 13 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association.

"The gender pay disparity we found in this highly talented and select group of physicians was sobering," said lead study author Reshma Jagsi, MD, PhD, associate professor of radiation oncology at the University of Michigan Medical School.

The researchers surveyed 800 physicians who had received a highly competitive early career research grant from the National Institutes of Health in 2000-2003. By focusing on these grants, the researchers narrowed the pool to an extremely select, highly motivated, highly talented group of physicians who are involved in academic medicine. The physicians were surveyed about a decade after receiving these grants, putting them now mid-career.

"People point to a lot of possible reasons for pay disparities, so we examined a population in which you would be least likely to pick up gender differences in salary. After we adjusted for a host of factors that could explain pay differences, we unmasked a pay disparity of $12,001 a year, or more than $350,000 over a career," Jagsi says.

The survey included 39 questions covering age, medical specialty, marital status, work hours, time spent in research, number of peer- reviewed publications, location, race, additional grants, leadership roles and other degrees.

Overall, the average annual salary was $200,422 for men and $167,669 for women, a difference of $32,764. Medical specialty was the biggest driver of salary difference. When the researchers factored that in, the men made $17,874 more. When the researchers adjusted for all factors, the gap was $12,001.

Spreading this out over 30 years, women would earn over $350,000 less than their male colleagues by the end of their career.

"To see that men and women doing similar work are paid quite differently in this cream-of-the-crop sample is both surprising and disturbing. I hope these findings will help inform policy discussions on how to address these disparities and ensure equal pay for men and women who are performing equal work," said Jagsi, who is also a Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Physician Faculty Scholar.

Senior author Peter Ubel, M.D., professor at Duke University's Fuqua School of Business and Duke's Sanford School of Public Policy, cautions against attributing the salary difference to conscious discrimination.

"For all we know, women are paid less in part because they don't negotiate as assertively as men, or because their spouses' jobs make it harder for them to entertain competing job offers," Ubel said. "Nevertheless, whatever the reason for the salary disparity, academic medical centers should work to pay more fairly. A person's salary should not depend upon whether they have a Y chromosome."

The researchers have been awarded a new grant that will allow them to study whether gender differences in salary were due to initial starting salaries or whether they accumulated over time.

Funding for the research was provided by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, the University of Michigan Office of the Vice President for Research and the National Institutes of Health. 

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