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Study Finds $2 Million Career Gender Pay Gap for Physicians

Analysis  |  By Christopher Cheney  
   December 06, 2021

Data analysis finds the male-female gender pay gap for physicians accelerates in the first 10 years of practice.

Through a simulated 40-year career, male physicians earn an average adjusted gross income that is about $2 million higher than female physicians, a new study found.

Earlier research has shown a persistent gender pay gap in physician compensation. Other recent research indicates that bias impacts job satisfaction for female physicians and medical researchers.

The new study, which was published today by Health Affairs, is based on data collected from more than 80,000 full-time physicians. Physician characteristics and annual income data were collected from Doximity, an online professional network for physicians. The study includes data collected from 2014 to 2019. Income was adjusted for factors that could impact compensation, including hours worked, clinical revenue, practice type, and specialty.

The study features several key data points.

  • On average, male physicians had higher income ($42,454 difference) than female physicians in the first year of practice. The gender pay gap increased in the first 10 years of practice then remained stable thereafter. On average, male physicians earned $90,298 more than female physicians in the 10th year of practice.
     
  • In the first year of practice, the gender pay gap was similar for primary care and other specialties: the adjusted income difference between male and female physicians was $18,245 for primary care, $19,150 for nonsurgical specialties, and $21,999 for surgical specialties. By the 10th year of practice, the gender pay gap by specialty had widened: the adjusted income difference between male and female physicians was $30,245 for primary care specialties, $38,611 for nonsurgical specialties, and $54,777 for surgical specialties.
     
  • For physicians overall, the 40-year simulated career income for male physicians was $8,307,327 and $6,263,446 for female physicians, for a difference in adjusted income of $2,043,881. The career gender pay gap was lowest for primary care physicians ($917,851) and highest in surgical specialties ($2,481,622).

Several factors likely contribute to the gender pay gap, the study's co-authors wrote.

"Gender bias on the part of employers, structural sexism, compensation models that disadvantage female practice styles, and different expectations of female physicians may be important drivers of the gender differences in income that were observed to start early in women's careers and remain elevated over time. In addition to these more traditional explanations, other explanations may be needed to account for the fact that the gap in salary between male and female physicians widens in the first decade of practice. One possibility is that female physicians are less willing or able to change jobs or practices, limiting their bargaining power for a raise," they wrote.

The study's co-authors offered an explanation for why the gender pay gap accelerates in the early years of practice.

"The observed early acceleration of gender differences in income occurs at a time when many female physicians bear a disproportionate burden of domestic and family responsibilities, such as childrearing, or are facing fertility challenges including fertility treatment. Similar income trajectories have been observed for other highly trained professionals. In these other settings, policies such as family leave provisions and broader coverage of childcare have been linked to reduced gender differences in income," they wrote.

Several mitigation strategies could address the gender pay gap, the study's co-authors wrote.

"Increased salary transparency, protections via laws such as the Massachusetts Equal Pay Act, and systematic measurement and reporting of gender differences in income by organizations could help lessen income differences between female and male physicians. To the extent that gender differences in income early in women’s careers persist throughout their careers, policies that eliminate those differences early on may lead to reduced differences over time as well," they wrote.

Christopher Cheney is the senior clinical care​ editor at HealthLeaders.


KEY TAKEAWAYS

On average, male physicians had higher income ($42,454 difference) than female physicians in the first year of practice.

On average, male physicians earned $90,298 more than female physicians in the 10th year of practice.

For physicians overall, the 40-year simulated career income for male physicians was $8,307,327 and $6,263,446 for female physicians, for a difference in adjusted income of $2,043,881.


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