It is often said that being a mom is the toughest job on the planet. As a mom, you are on call 24/7, 365 days a year. You definitely don’t get sick days and you probably don’t take a lunch break. Let’s be honest, some days you don’t even have the time to brush your hair or take a shower. But what about moms who also have a full-time job? Further, what about moms who have a full-time job in one of the most stressful and intense industries? I think it is safe to say that physicians who are also mothers likely take the cake when it comes to the world’s toughest jobs. Not many would argue with this statement, and so why is it that moms, and female physicians in general, are compensated far less than their male counterparts? Troubling, but true.
In recent years, we’ve all been blasted with reports about the gender pay gap in Hollywood. Despite the media’s focus on those that grace the silver screen, it is important to note that the gender pay gap affects people across all professions and industries in the US. Nonetheless, you still may be surprised to learn that the gender pay gap is alive and well among one of our country’s oldest and most revered professions: medicine. That’s right – although the year is 2018, reports indicate that female physicians, across all specialties, earn an average of 28% less than their male counterparts. This figure translates to an approximate $105,000 per year. Even when the data is broken down based on medical specialty, there is no area where women earn as much as men.
Of course, it is not news to anyone that the medical field is one that has historically been dominated by men. While male doctors still outnumber females – approximately 66% of physicians in the US are men – women are entering the medical field at unprecedented rates. The number of women enrolled in medical school recently reached a 10-year high, and in 2015, female medical school graduates outnumbered males in several states.
One of the largest factors affecting compensation among men versus women is geography. The statistics prove that where you live does matter. In several cities, the pay gap is 30% or more (including Charlotte and Durham, North Carolina; Orlando, Florida; and Kansas City, Missouri). Five other cities have pay gaps of at least 29%. It appears that the pay gap was the least significant (relatively speaking) in Sacramento, where female physicians earn 19% less than their male counterparts. The reports are unclear as to why such drastic disparities exist in particular cities.
Perhaps the most disturbing aspect of this issue is an examination of when, if ever, the gap will close. Although the gender pay gap has certainly been inching closer and closer together (no one can deny the progress made in women’s education and workforce participation since the 1970s), the rate of change simply is not happening fast enough. Experts estimate that if the rate of change experienced between 1960 and 2016 continues, then women are expected to achieve pay equality in 2059. However, experts also advise that progress has slowed in recent years (since 2001, specifically), such that if the more recent and slower rate of change continues, women will not achieve pay equality until 2119. So, even if we take the more optimistic stance, women will continue to earn less money than their male counterparts for another staggering 41 years.
Having presumably achieved the same level of education and training upon entering the work force, why are female and male physicians paid so differently? Unfortunately, there truly is not a good answer, but it appears that at least part of the problem is self-doubt and reluctance on behalf of women. Reports indicate that, in general, women feel less comfortable than men when it comes to negotiating their compensation, and therefore simply accept what is offered to them. Therefore, although this problem requires a systemic response, it is clear that we also need women to stand up for their value and for female voices to be heard. For this reason, there are many advocates around the country who speak on this issue and encourage women to become proactive about negotiating their salaries, including Dr. Theresa Rohr-Kirchgraber, an associate professor at Indiana University School of Medicine, who holds a class called Negotiating the Pay Divide to raise awareness about this issue. Dr. Rohr-Kirchgraber emphasizes the importance of women being more proactive toward “eliminating an unconscious bias that exists in medicine.”