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Study Looks at Work Hours for Dual-Physician Couples with Kids

By John Commins  
   August 22, 2017

Researchers examined nearly 10,000 dual-physician couples and suggest that 'societal expectations' may explain why female physicians work fewer hours than their spouses.

In dual-physician couples, women with children worked fewer hours than women without children but similar differences in hours worked were not seen among men. That’s according to a new research letter published this week in JAMA Internal Medicine.

The study sample included 9,868 physicians in dual-physician couples (the average age for women was 38 and 39 for men). Researchers estimated weekly hours worked for married, dual-physician couples from 2000 through 2015 using a nationally representative survey of about 3 million households annually.

The study lead by Anupam B. Jena, MD, PhD, of Harvard Medical School, included people whose self-reported occupation and that of their spouse were physician or surgeon.

The study found that:

  • Among couples without children, weekly work hours were 57 hours for men and 52.4 hours for women.
  • Compared to couples without children, there was no significant difference in hours worked among men whose youngest child was age 1 to 2 (55.3 hours, a difference of 1.7 hours less) but hours worked among women were significantly lower (41.5 hours, a difference of 10.9 hours less).
  • Among men, there also was no significant difference in hours as the youngest child got older compared with men without children.
  • Among women, the number of hours worked remained lower compared to women without children as the youngest child got older.

“One possible reason for our results is that even within dual-physician couples, societal expectations for women to reduce hours worked to care for children still hold,” the researchers said.

Alternatively, they said, women in certain specialties may be more likely to both work fewer hours and have children, which would impact the analysis because the authors were unable to adjust for specialty, which was not available.

Analyses were limited to physicians age 25 to 50 to focus on childbearing years. Same-sex couples were excluded because authors focused on sex differences in couples.

John Commins is a senior editor at HealthLeaders.

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