New study identifies clear gender gap in physicians’ earnings

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A discernible gender gap exists in earnings by physicians working across a range of occupations in the United States. That is the finding in a new study, “Trends in the Earnings of Male and Female Health Care Professionals in the United States, 1987 to 2010,” co-authored by Amitabh Chandra, professor of public policy at Harvard Kennedy School (HKS). The paper is published in the September 2nd edition of JAMA Internal Medicine.

Chandra and his co-authors examined a range of data over a 23 year period, adjusting for hours worked in order to avoid overstating gender differences attributable to choices made by female physicians to work less. The analysis provided strong evidence that female physicians are underpaid compared to their male counterparts.

“The gender earnings gap for registered nurses and pharmacists was smaller than for physicians and workers overall, and it fell over time. For dentists, physician assistants, and health care executives, the gender gap was greater than for workers in a non–health care occupation and fell consistently only for health care executives,” he argues.

“While it is important to study gender differences in earnings after accounting for factors such as specialty choice and practice type, it is equally important to understand overall unadjusted gender differences in earnings. We performed the latter study,” he writes. “This is because specialty and practice choices may be due to not only preferences of female physicians but also unequal opportunities.”