Female Physicians Continue to Earn Less than Male Physicians

Seth A. Seabury, PhD Department of Emergency Medicine, University of Southern California Los Angeles Leonard D. Schaeffer Center for Health Policy and Economics, University of Southern California, Los AngelesMedicalResearch.com Interview with:
Seth A. Seabury, PhD
Department of Emergency Medicine, University of Southern California, Los Angeles Leonard D. Schaeffer Center for Health Policy and Economics, University of Southern California, Los Angeles

 
MedicalResearch.com: What are the main findings of the study?

Dr. Seabury: We studied the trends in the earnings of male and female physicians in the US from 1987-2010 using nationally representative data from the Current Population Survey (CPS).  We found that, while the number of female physicians grew significantly, male physicians continue to have significantly higher earnings than female physicians.  The difference in the median earnings of male physicians compared to female physicians actually increased from $33,840 in 1987-1990 to $56,019 in 2006-2010, though the difference across years was not statistically significant.  Our approach controlled for differences in hours worked, so earnings gap was not driven by differences in work hours, though it could be explained by other factors we did not observe in our data (e.g., specialty choice).

Looking at other occupations in the US health care industry, the male-female earnings gap was smaller for pharmacists and registered nurses and decreased over time, but was large and increased for physicians assistants.  On the other hand, our numbers indicate that outside of the health care industry, the male-female earnings gap fell by more than 45%.  Even though significant gender inequality persists across the US, female physicians do not appear to have benefited from the relative gains that female workers outside the health care industry have.

MedicalResearch.com: Were any of the findings unexpected?

Dr. Seabury: Other recent studies have indicated that earnings differences persist between male and female physicians, so it wasn’t necessarily surprising that we found a gap from 2006-2010.  However, the size of the gap, and the fact that the gap had failed to close significantly in more than 20 years even though earnings equality outside the health care industry has improved a great deal, was surprising to us.

MedicalResearch.com: What recommendations do you have for future research as a result of this study?

Dr. Seabury: While our research documented a significant gap and a lack of convergence in male-female physician earnings over time, it did not identify the cause of the gap.  For example, the CPS did not include information on physician specialty, so we were unable to determine the extent to which differential specialty choices might drive the gap in earnings.  More generally, more work is needed to understand why the earnings for female physicians are not catching up to those of their male counterparts, even while gender equality in wages has improved steadily in other areas of the economy.

MedicalResearch.com: What should clinicians and patients take away from your report?

Dr. Seabury: While efforts to increase the number of female physicians have been at least partially successful, the earnings of female physicians lag behind those of male physicians by a significant margin, and there has been no improvement over the last 20+ years.  While the root cause of this inequality is unclear, more needs to be done to ensure that female physicians receive equal opportunities for specialty choice and career advancement as do male physicians.

Citation:

Seabury SA, Chandra A, Jena AB. Trends in the Earnings of Male and Female Health Care Professionals in the United States, 1987 to 2010. JAMA Intern Med. 2013;():-. doi:10.1001/jamainternmed.2013.8519.