Why is healthcare's gender wage gap widening?

Breaking from the national trend, the gender wage gap in healthcare is actually increasing, according to Healthcare Dive, and some of the explanations that undermine the role of inequality don't hold water.

Outside of the healthcare industry, the playing field appears to be leveling, as Pew Research Center data on workers' hourly earnings show that a 36-cent pay gap in 1980 shrunk to a 16-cent gap in 2015, the article states. Among male and female physician assistants, however, a 7 percent wage gap between 1987 and 1990 jumped to a 30 percent gap between 2006 and 2010.

While the same data show a much smaller wage gap between physicians, a 2014 study found that female doctors make about half as much as male doctors in the Medicare system. And a study published in March indicates that a wage gap between male and female nurses appeared as early as 1988, narrowed in the 1990s and expanded again after 2000.

Notably, the latter study controlled for factors such as type of degree, amount of experience, location and weekly hours, all factors some critics use to explain away the existence of a male-female wage gap, according to Healthcare Dive. Some of these claims bear merit, the article states, as research shows that female physicians overall say they plan to spend fewer hours on patient care than their male counterparts. Studies also show that women tend to choose more lower-paying specialties such as primary care.

However, there is still a pay gap between male and female doctors who say they plan to put in a similar number of hours, and male and female salaries also are unequal within specialties, according to the article. Men also overwhelmingly outnumber women in the high-earning C-suite, which may explain why a Health Affairs study found that 8.3 percent of men fit into the top compensation category, compared to 2.3 percent of women.

One explanation for why the healthcare wage gap hasn't followed national trends is that more women may be seeking employment arrangements that offer non-financial perks such as family-friendly, flexible schedules, the article notes. And this could well be a good sign for an industry that is plagued by worker stress and burnout.

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