You’ve probably heard that women make 79 cents (or 84 cents, 92 cents or some other number, depending on whom you ask) for every dollar that men make. Although the exact number may be under dispute, nearly everyone agrees there’s still a pretty significant gender pay gap in the United States. Democratic presidential hopefuls Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders have both called for the passage of the Paycheck Fairness Act, which would add further protections to ensure equal pay by forcing employers to demonstrate that wage differences are not based on gender and prohibiting retaliation against workers who ask about wage practices. Even Donald Trump, who has not been the most, well, politically correct regarding women, has said that they should get “equal pay for equal work.”
So it should not be surprising to hear that new data shows that this pay gap also applies to female physicians in academia.
For a study published in the journal JAMA Internal Medicine on Monday, Anupam B. Jena obtained salary information for academic physicians at 24 public medical schools through the Freedom of Information Act. The analysis included 10,241 faculty members, 34.7 percent female and 65.3 percent male, from a lot of big-name medical schools including the No. 3 on U.S. News & World Report’s annual ranking, the University of California at San Francisco and the world-renowned University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center. The study is thought to be the largest on gender differences in earnings among physicians in academia.
Without taking things such as faculty rank and other professional achievements and experience into account, Jena found that the average woman’s salary was $206,641 and the average man’s salary was $257,957 — a whopping $51,315 difference. To put that into context, the median income for a whole household in the United States in 2014 was $51,939.
Jena, an associate professor of health-care policy at Harvard Medical School, also adjusted the salaries based on faculty rank, age, years since residency, specialty, National Institutes of Health funding, clinical-trial participation and publication count. There was still a pretty big gap of $19,878 between men and women, with men making the higher average salary.
Jena also found that female physicians were less likely than their male counterparts to be full professors. This was not controlled for age or experience, so it could at least partially have to do with the facts that the women tended to be younger and that getting tenure in academia can take a long time. It also could have to do with the fact that the women in the study had fewer total publications and were less likely to have conducted a clinical trial or to have received funding from the NIH. It could also have to do with the fact that they were more likely to choose certain specialties than men. It turns out that women are more likely to be in internal medicine, obstetrics and gynecology, and pediatrics.
Of course, it’s just as possible that the causation is the other way around and that discrimination — blatant or subconscious — is at play. It’s impossible to tell from this study and is something that merits further study.
One significant finding is that in one subfield — radiology — and two locations, there was virtually no pay gap.
“These findings, although still sobering, emphasize the importance of understanding these positive deviants. What policies, procedures, leadership, or culture at these sites helps to counteract a gender pay gap? Recognizing these factors could help to create a potential remedy that could be adopted and tested in the sites that experience the greatest disparity in income by sex,” Vineet M. Arora, an associate professor of medicine at the University of Chicago, wrote in a commentary.
This post has been updated.