Big Gap in Pay Between Young Male and Female Doctors

Female physicians just starting out are paid nearly $17,000 less than their male counterparts, and earn much less than men across nearly all specialties, according to a new study in Health Affairs. The study found that the pay gap exists even after factoring in such things as medical specialty and hours worked.

While disparities in physician salaries between men and women is nothing new, the size of the gap continues to grow. The study found a difference in pay of $16,819 in 2008, up from $3,600 in 1999. The survey sampled 4,918 men and 3,315 women.

The study’s lead author Anthony Lo Sasso, a professor at the School of Public Health at the University of Illinois at Chicago, in an interview with the Wall Street Journal, suggested that the pay gap exists because women doctors look for more workplace flexibility, such as not being on call after certain hours. He believes that employers need to reconsider pay and working arrangement for male and female physicians, particularly in primary care.

“It is not surprising to say that women physicians make less than male physicians because women traditionally choose lower-paying jobs in primary care fields or they choose to work fewer hours,” Lo Sasso told the Journal. “What is surprising is that even when we account for specialty and hours and other factors, we see this growing unexplained gap in starting salary.  The same gap exists for women in primary care as it does in specialty fields.”

While in the past woman have disproportionately entered primary-care fields, such as internal medicine, geriatrics or pediatrics, the number is on the decline, the study found. In 1999, nearly 50% of women entered primary care; 2008 that had dropped to 30%. But even outside of primary care -- typically the lowest-paying specialty -- female doctors are making are making far less than male physicians. For example, the study found that women heart surgeons earned an average of $27,103 less than men, and females specializing in pulmonary disease earned an average $44,320 less than their male counterparts.

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