Women who enter the medical profession earn around $2 million less than men over their careers than women of similar qualifications and education, according to a study from the advocacy group Physicians for Reproductive Health.
Researchers from George Washington University, the Harvard School of Public Health and other universities calculated the earnings difference in medical careers based on the cumulative medical school education of women and men. They created a theoretical scale to calculate the pay gap and used an online ranking system for researchers to examine the role of education and experience.
The researchers found that a woman medical student in an expensive, male-dominated, poorly paying specialty – one that did not fall into a specific physician niche like intensive care, public health or physical medicine – faced a pay gap of 14.6 percent compared to male peers in the same specialty. As a result, a person with the same educational level and education but with fewer jobs as a primary care physician would earn around $12,500 less over their career than a person with similar educational credentials and experience in a male-dominated specialty.
Women with the same educational and experience are paid $2 million less than men in their careers as doctors.
A woman who enters primary care and has one job before she graduates from medical school could earn between $44,000 and $59,000 less than a physician who has many jobs throughout his or her career. Women who have fewer jobs during their careers could earn up to $120,000 less than men.
The health care system rewards male doctors who perform higher proportionally more procedures for profit-making corporations. Women and minorities are disproportionately trained in specialized programs, which cost more and generally not pay as well.
One way to address the cultural barriers keeping women out of primary care, and potentially close the physician pay gap, would be to reduce the volume of training graduates receive for specialty disciplines. Another would be to require a bachelor’s degree for medical school, a path that’s advocated for by the American Academy of Family Physicians.
At the moment, there are no federal laws requiring the health care system to pay for male-dominated roles more effectively than female-dominated roles. Without mandatory minimum pay or reimbursement rates, states typically set their own pay for physicians based on factors like specialty, residency training and employment in a particular city. Some states and cities, though, have implemented salaries and residencies for specific specialties and nurse practitioners.
According to the study, women earn approximately 10 percent less than men in their careers. Allowing women to earn around $120,000 less in their careers could reduce health care costs by $1.6 billion over a lifetime for the state of Washington.