As we aim to improve equity and diversity, a new study shines light on pay differences.
Female physicians earn $2 million less, on average, than do male physicians over the course of a 40-year career, The Health Affairs study noted.1 Gender differences in career earnings were largest for surgical specialists ($2.5 million difference), followed by nonsurgical specialists ($1.6 million difference) and primary care physicians ($0.9 million difference).
Other studies have documented the disparity in earnings between men and women physicians. However, this study is the first to capture the impact over the length of a career, said Christopher Whaley, PhD, a policy researcher at the RAND Corporation and lead author of the study.
Whaley did not expect the career earnings gap to reach $2 million. “That was a surprising number to see,” Whaley said in a phone interview. “That really is a stark difference in pay.”
Specifically, the study determined that male physicians earned an average adjusted gross income of $8.31 million over the course of a simulated 40-year career, while female physicians earned an average of $6.26 million.
The study also examined the 10 most common specialties and found substantial pay disparities in each one. The smallest gap was seen in emergency medicine physicians, but the difference was still $621,952. The largest disparity among those 10 specialties was found in orthopedic surgery ($1,530,006).
Whaley further noted that the study focused on full-time clinicians who typically are not in academic practice. Thus, he said, the study may not fully capture the difficulties women have in choosing higher-paying specialties.
“Our study probably understates the true differences in pay,” Whaley added.
1. Whaley CM, Koo T, Arora VM, et al. Female physicians earn an estimated $2 million less than male physicians over a simulated 40-year career. Health Affairs. 2021;40(12). Accessed December 17, 2021. https://www.healthaffairs.org/doi/abs/10.1377/hlthaff.2021.00461 ❒
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