Gender pay gap for physicians widening, researchers can't explain why

New research documents an unexplained, growing disparity in pay between male and female physicians at the outset of their careers.

The study, released ahead of print by Health Affairs, examines the factors that may contribute to this pay gap. Researchers chose to focus on men and women who had recently accepted their first nontraining roles to help minimize differences in work experience and productivity. The research team instead focused on work-life balance preferences and other factors.

Here are the key findings:

  • On average, female physician starting salaries — in 2017 dollars — were $36,618 less than male physician starting salaries from 1999 to 2017.
  • When adjusted for differences in specialty, hours worked and other factors, the gender pay gap increased from $7,700 in 1999 to $20,200 in 2017.
  • The factors analyzed could not explain 39 percent of this pay gap.
  • Specialty differences were tied to 40 to 55 percent of the pay gap.
  • The number of job offers a candidate received was associated with a 2 to 9 percent pay differential.
  • Hours worked explained up to 7 percent of the pay gap.
  • Work-life balance preferences explained less than 1 percent of the pay gap.

"Our analysis showed that physician-stated preferences for controlling work-life balance, including having predictable hours, the length of the work day, the frequency of being on call overnight, and the frequency of weekend duty, had virtually no effect on the starting salary differential between men and women," the researchers concluded.

The study is based on data from the "New York Survey of Residents Completing Training" conducted annually by the Center for Health Workforce Studies of the University at Albany, State University New York. Results from 1999 to 2017 were included in the study. Work-life balance preference data was from 2014-17.

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