Gender gap averages more than $36K for physicians starting their careers, new study finds

primary care
Female physicians starting their medical careers earn, on average, $36,600 less than their male counterparts. (Getty/Milkos)

Male physicians starting their careers are paid an average of $36,600 more than their female colleagues, according to a new study.

It isn’t the first time studies have documented salary differences between male and female physicians and have been unable to entirely explain the cause. A study just released by Health Affairs found that during the study period of 1999–2017, the average starting compensation for men was $235,044 and for women was $198,426—a difference of $36,618.

And more bad news for female doctors? The study found there was a larger gap in more recent years than in earlier years.

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The study, released ahead of print by Health Affairs, examined survey data for graduating medical residents and fellows in New York state.

The researchers said they could explain about 60% of the gap in starting salary primarily by differences in specialty and hours spent in patient care. However, they couldn’t entirely explain the salary differences.

For the years 2014-2017, the survey included new questions that assessed work-life balance. In the sample of respondents included in the study, women were more likely than men to rate control over work-life balance issues as “very important” and to choose primary care, which typically pays a lower salary, as their specialty.

However, physicians’ stated preferences for control over commonly cited work-life stressors—including predicable hours, length of the work day, frequency of overnight calls and weekend duty—had virtually no effect on the starting salary difference between men and women, the researchers said.

“While it is apparent that women say they place a greater premium on control over work-life balance factors, this difference does not appear to explain the observed starting salary difference, conditional on other factors,” the authors concluded.

“There may nevertheless exist workplace biases, whether intentional or unintentional, that differentially affect women irrespective of their individual stated preferences for work-life balance,” the authors said.

Female doctors in a survey last year said they know what’s behind the gender gap. The majority of female physicians said they believe their male counterparts earn more than they do, and 76% say unconscious employer discrimination is the reason.

A 2018 survey of doctors in Maryland found male physicians make almost 50% more than females. A separate survey found that while the gender pay gap narrowed for the first time in 2018, female physicians still make less than their male counterparts.

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