A new study in JAMA Internal Medicine finds that female physicians' median annual income is about 75% of male physicians' income, although specialty choices may play a role in explaining the pay gap.
Specifically, male physicians receive about $221,000 in take-home pay each year, while female physicians have a median annual income of $165,278, according to a research team of two Harvard University professors and a University of Southern California professor.
The team reviewed Current Population Survey data from 2006 to 2010 to determine annual income levels.
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The data did not include details on specialty or practice arrangements, which could help explain the disparity, researchers acknowledged. However, they question whether some specialties may be less open to female physicians than male physicians and suggest that problems related to the gender gap could be pervasive within the health system.
"Specialty and practice choices may be due to not only preferences of female physicians but also unequal opportunities," according to the researchers.
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The researchers further note that the gender gap is roughly equivalent to 25% in greater annual income for male physicians, which is actually an increase from previous survey years; male physicians enjoyed a 16% pay advantage between 1996 and 2000.
"The difference is consequential," the University of California San Francisco's Molly Cooke wrote in an accompanying commentary. "Multiplied over a 30- or 40-year professional lifetime, it is huge."
Cooke also noted that the gender gap is shrinking in many other professional fields. So "why does this continue to happen" in health care, she wonders. "There is no good reason" (Fay Cortez, Bloomberg, 9/2; Fiore, MedPage Today, 9/2).
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