Pay Gap for Women Doctors Increases to $50,000 a Year

Female physicians in the U.S. continue to earn less than their male counterparts, with the pay gap widening during the past two decades to more than $50,000 annually in 2010, researchers said.

Women doctors had a median annual income of $165,278 from 2006 to 2010, compared with yearly earnings of $221,297 for male physicians, according to the report published today in JAMA Internal Medicine. While the annual pay for women doctors has increased since the median of $134,995 in 1990, it’s only now beginning to approach the $168,795 annually earned by men 20 years ago, the researchers found.

The number of female doctors has soared since Title IX of the U.S. Civil Rights Act was enacted almost 40 years ago, with women now accounting for one-third of all doctors and half of medical school students. Their pay hasn’t kept pace, said the researchers led by Seth Seabury, an associate professor in the University of Southern California medical school and a fellow at the university’s Center for Health Policy & Economics.

The study used data from the Current Population Survey and couldn’t adjust for a physician’s specialty or practice type, which may account for some of the gender pay gap, the researchers said. It’s important to understand the pay disparity regardless because there is no definitive way to know everything that plays a role in those employment decisions, they said.

“Specialty and practice choices may be due to not only preferences of female physicians but also unequal opportunities,” the researchers said. “For example, are unadjusted earnings differences between male and female physicians due to a preference of female physicians for lower-paying specialties -- pediatrics or primary care -- or do female physicians have less opportunity to enter higher paying specialties despite having similar preferences as male physicians?”

The researchers said the reasons for “the persistent gender gap in physician earnings” merit further study.

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