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Economic Inequality, Gender, Inequality, Politics, Public Policy, Social Justice, Society, Women's Rights

Gender Wage Gap Persists Even In High-Paying Medical Professions, Study Finds

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The existence of gender-based wage gaps in many occupations continues to be a hot-button topic in social and political debates. While much attention has been focused on medium- and lower-wage positions, some studies have shown that wage disparities extend to high-wage, high-prestige positions. Now, a new investigation has revealed that the gender wage gap persists even among the most highly educated professionals in the country.

According to a new study published in The American Journal of Medicine, women who serve as directors of internal medicine residency programs — widely regarded as one of the most influential positions in academic medicine — are paid less than their male counterparts.

“Despite the increased percentage of women faculty in U.S. academic medicine, disparities in achievement still exist,” according to lead author Lisa L. Willett, MD, of the Department of Medicine, University of Alabama at Birmingham. “The disparity exists regardless of region, program type, academic rank, general internal medicine specialty, age, or years of experience. In addition, we found that the gap in salary has not narrowed over the past five years.”

The authors analyzed responses from 241 program directors and program administrators from the annual Association of Program Directors in Internal Medicine (APDIM) survey in August 2012. Historical trends were assessed from similar data from the 2008-2011 surveys.

Salary data was divided into $25,000 increments and the mode, or most likely, salary was $200,000 to $225,000 for men and $175,000 to $200,000 for women. Even after controlling for academic rank, career path in general internal medicine, and age, the differences remained. The authors also found that these differences have persisted since at least 2008.

A residency program director plays a pivotal role in academic medicine centers for Graduate Medical Education (GME). GME is responsible for training the nation’s physician workforce and its importance is reflected in the level of public funding of more than $13 billion per year. Program directors are responsible for the oversight of the curriculum, evaluations, work hours, supervision, fatigue, verifications, scholarship, and schedules of more than 110,000 residents and fellows enrolled in U.S. GME programs.

The authors advise that “leaders in academic medicine centers, residency and fellowship directors, and all faculty in medical education need to be aware that the salary disparities cited decades ago still persist in this important population of medical educators. Reporting this information is an important step in addressing the disparity in an effort to improve it. Sponsorship of women without awareness of, and subsequent advocacy for, salary equity is unlikely to correct these disparities.”

According to a 2014 analysis by the Institute for Women’s Policy Research (IWPR), women earn less than men in almost all of the 112 occupations for which the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics publishes weekly full-time earnings data for both women and men. In at least 101 of the 112 occupations, women made significantly less than men, and in 17 of these they made at least 25 cents less per dollar. Women also earn less than men in all twenty of most common occupations for women.

Even though women are outpacing men in getting college degrees, that’s not enough to close the gender pay gap. College-educated women earn 5% less the first year out of school than their male peers; 10 years later, even if they keep working on par with those men, women will earn 12% less. This is true for all women, regardless of educational attainment — the wage gap accumulates over time, largely because women earn less when they take their first job. By the end of a 40-year working career the average woman loses $431,000 as a result of the wage gap, and for college-educated women, the average lifetime wage gap is almost three-quarters of a million dollars. The gender wage gap also increases with age: for working women between the ages of 25-29, the annual wage gap is $1,702, while the annual wage gap jumps to over $14,000 for women over the age of 55.

Despite the abundance of false claims that women earn less than men because they choose different careers, the evidence shows that the gender wage gap cannot be explained by differences in occupation, work experience, race, or union membership. And according to economic policy experts Drs. Francine Blau and Lawrence Kahn of Cornell University, less than 10% of the gender wage gap is due to the fact that women are more likely to have to take unpaid days off to take care of children or other family members. Even if women and men have the same background, the wage gap still exists, highlighting the fact that most of the discrepancy can be attributed to gender-based discrimination.

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