How much do women in medicine earn compared with men?

By Sarah Handzel, BSN, RN | Fact-checked by Jessica Wrubel
Published August 16, 2022

Key Takeaways

  • On average, women earn only 83 cents for every dollar a man earns.

  • The more women in a medical subspecialty, the less money both women and men earn over time.

  • Equalizing salaries immediately after residency completion influences the wage gap more than annual salary growth rates.

The gender pay gap remains a prolific inequality, with women earning just 83 cents for every dollar earned by a man.[]

The ramifications are more widespread than just annual earnings. Women stand to earn significantly less than men over the course of their careers. And because women earn less, they receive less in Social Security benefits; ultimately, women have only 70% of the retirement income that men do.

Even though discrepancies in earnings based on sex are prohibited by law, this still occurs in almost all occupations—including medicine.

Sex distribution impacts subspecialty compensation

Within academic medicine, the gender pay gap persists regardless of age, academic rank, experience, and independent measures of revenue generation and research productivity.

A 2022 JAMA Network Open study suggested that subspecialties employing greater numbers of women, such as pediatrics, are, on average, less well-compensated compared with more male-dominated subspecialties like surgery.[]

Additionally, as the number of women in a subspecialty grows over time, the average compensation within that same subspecialty declines—for everyone.

A 2021 JAMA Pediatrics study demonstrated that for every 10% increase in the percentage of women employed in a specialty, women’s salaries actually declined by over $15,000. However, compensation for male colleagues also suffered; men in the same specialty saw an average loss of $8,255.[]

Study on wage gap causes

So who (or what) is to blame?

The current US medical payment system reimburses more money for procedures than for other medical services. Procedure-based specialties often employ more men, which could help explain the wage gap.

In the JAMA Network Open study, researchers examined whether the gender pay gap in medicine occurs primarily as a result of lower starting salaries for women or annual salary growth rates. Using information from more than 54,000 physicians, they determined that women generally have lower starting salaries in 42 out of 45 separate subspecialties.

Differences in salary beginning immediately after completion of residency seemed to influence the wage gap more than annual salary growth rates, which are determined by a variety of factors including clinical productivity, the number of hours worked, teaching responsibilities, administrative load, and research output. In some cases, departments implement standardized yearly salary increases.

Unwillingness to negotiate starting salary may explain why women often start with less. Or, it may be that such negotiation efforts are less successful than those of their male counterparts.

Timing of promotions also seems to play a role; research suggests women in academic medicine receive later and fewer promotions compared with men, further hindering their earning potential.

Recognize the problem

Consider discussing this with the administration at your institution. Looking at this potential problem that could affect females in many specialties is the first step to acknowledging that such an issue could exist in your workplace.[]

This kind of discussion could perhaps open the door to establishing a group within your institution to advocate for women’s rights, equal pay, and adding higher numbers of new women employees to your staff.

What this means for you

The gender wage gap persists in medicine, with women earning significantly less compared with men over their career span. Recognition of the problem can help promote equal pay among medical specialties, including those employing greater numbers of women.

Read Next: A closer look at the biggest pay gaps in physician pay

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