Gender-pay gap grows, questions remain

Female physicians, when more comfortable discussing pay and advancement with their colleagues, may be more inclined to advocate for more equitable pay and recognition for themselves, suggested Molly Cooke, M.D., in an invited commentary to a new study published this week in JAMA Internal Medicine.

The study revealed that the pay gap between men and women in medicine has now grown to more than $56,000 a year.

According to researchers Anupam Jena, M.D., Ph.D., of Harvard, and colleagues, healthcare is one of the few industries in which women's earnings are trailing men's more than ever before. In their study of nationally representative data from 1987 to 2010, researchers found that from 2006 and 2010, men earned 25.3 percent more than their female counterparts, with data controlled for most confounding factors other than specialty. This disparity was up from the 16.3 percent pay gap found between 1996 and 2000, although the ranks of female physicians have steadily risen throughout the study period, MedPage Today reported.

In her commentary, Cooke recounted a gender-pay study she helped conduct at the University of California in San Francisco 24 years ago, noting that many female doctors don't realize that not everyone with similar backgrounds and expertise is offered the same compensation and opportunities. "I believe that women may be less candid about discussing what they make and are more reserved about asking others about their salaries and advancement," she wrote, adding that pay tended to be more similar between married physician couples.

"Knowledge of what their spouses were earning perhaps aided women in advocating for equitable pay for themselves," she wrote. "Beyond knowledge, women may have felt freer to discuss the nitty-gritty of their employment situation and academic progress with their partners than they did with their colleagues."

Nonetheless, study authors questioned whether female physicians had disproportionate preferences toward lower-paying specialties or were also offered unequal opportunities. "The etiology of the persistent gender gap in physician earnings is unknown and merits further consideration," they concluded.

To learn more:
- see the abstract from JAMA Internal Medicine
- access the related editorial
- see the article from MedPage Today