Women now make up one-third of physician workforce

Despite gains, gender wage gap in medicine persists

Topics: Diversity, Workforce

December 6, 2012

About 32% of physicians and surgeons in the United States are women, up from 9.7% in 1970 and 26.8% in 2000, according to a Wall Street Journal analysis of the latest U.S. Census data.

American Medical Association (AMA) data suggest that the increase in female physicians is directly connected to medical school enrollment. Altogether, 45.4% of medical residents, medical fellows, and medical school graduates in training are women, per AMA data.

"The corporate sector in some sense has been a great equalizer" for women in health care, notes Harvard University economist Claudia Goldin. Female advancement in health care has coincided with an increase in corporate-owned hospitals and practices, where it is often easier for women to balance work with family, she says.

Moreover, health care companies have raised women's wages while offering more flexible work schedules, Goldin says.

But a wage gap still exists: Female physicians make a median income of $112,128, compared to the $189,916 that male physicians make.

Those differences are largely explained by individual choices, including women taking time off to raise children or opting for less-demanding career tracks or positions that pay less, said Harvard economist Lawrence Katz. But a small portion of the gap exists for unclear reasons, he said (Mitchell, Wall Street Journal, 12/4).

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