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A study group headed by Dr. Sasso of the School of Public Health of the University of Illinois at Chicago recently announced that women with new licenses to practice medicine earn on average $16,819 less per year than men newly granted medical licenses.

Women MDs Just Out of Training Earn $17,000 Per Year Less than Their Male Counterparts

A study group headed by Dr. Anthony Lo Sasso of the School of Public Health of the University of Illinois at Chicago recently announced that women with new licenses to practice medicine earn on average $16,819 less per year than men newly granted medical licenses. The gap, Sasso says, reflects the willingness of women to work in family practice and to accept reduced hours.

Dr. Sasso's research team focused on 8,000 newly trained doctors in New York, the state that is home to more medical training programs than any other in the USA. The researchers compared recent survey findings with data going back to the 1990's.

The pay gap between men and women doctors in 2008, the latest year for which statistics are available, is actually considerably greater than it was in 1998. In 1998, men beginning the practice of medicine earned on average just $3,600 a year more than women starting out, according to the study.

And the supposed willingness of women to work in specialties with fewer billable hours may not completely explain the gap any more, either. In the 1990's, about 50 per cent of women doctors entered family practice or pediatrics. By 2008, the percentage of women entering these specialties had fallen to 30 per cent, about the same as men. These trends certainly do not explain a widening gender pay gap in medicine. But what does?

Salaries of Women in Medicine May Reflect More Desires than Motherhood

The real explanation of the gender pay gap in medicine may require backing away from the rarefied statistical explanations of the academic study. The University of Illinois pegged the women's pay gap in 1998 at $3,600 by "adjusting for office differences." The raw numbers tell a different story:

  • In 1998, women doctors in New York just starting out earned an average of $151,600, compared to $173,400 for men. That's $21,800, not $3,600.
  • In 2008, women doctors in New York just starting out earned an average of $174,000, compared to $209,000 for men. That's $35,000, not $16,819.

The lower figures (adjusted for inflation to be stated in 2008-dollars) are computed by a technique called regression analysis. This technique is used to create a mathematical model of the factors involved in predicting a variable, such as salary. The problem with this regression may be that important factors are left out.

It is possible that women doctors tend to accept more pay to work shorter hours, or that they accept lower pay starting out because they choose more prestigious institutions to enhance their medical skills. The difference may also be due to the exact opposite of what the study author suggest.

The University of Illinois researchers tell us that women may earn less because they accept shorter hours. The expanding gender pay gap may actually tell us that more women are choosing demanding careers in surgery, which has a longer training period than office specialties.

The one thing that is sure is that American women are paid less than American men to practice medicine. It just may be for reasons other than that they want to be mommies.

  • Anthony T. Lo Sasso, Michael R. Richards, Chiu-Fang Chou,and Susan E. Gerber. The $16,819 Pay Gap For Newly Trained Physicians: The Unexplained Trend Of Men Earning More Than Women. Health Aff February 2011 30:2193-201, doi:10.1377/hlthaff.2010.0597