Education for children is a priority for everyone. We wanted to know if this was a particular priority for women physicians, and whether they were more or less likely to send their children to private schools.
Nationally, about 10-12% of children go to private schools, either parochial or secular (National Center for Education Statistics: Trends in the use of school choice: 1993-2007 Statistical Analysis Report, Slate: Private-School Refugees). In our population of attending physicians with school-aged children (n=68), the figure was substantially higher, with 36.8% of attending physicians sending their children to private schools.
One obvious confound is that attending physicians, on average, make more money than the general population so can more easily afford private schools. We therefore extended our analysis to resident physicians and medical students, who make substantially less than attending physicians. We found, surprisingly, that this group had an even higher rate of private school attendance (albeit with a much smaller sample size). Fifty percent of the residents (n=12 residents) and 57% of the students (n=7 students) who responded sent their children to private schools.
Parents in the “physician track” (including attendings, residents and medical students) were therefore four times more likely than the general population to send their children to private schools.
To better address the effect of family income, we stratified private vs. public rates based on three ranges of family income. Our initial hypothesis was that private school attendance would increase with family income. The data, summarized in Figures 1 and 2, showed a different result. For physician track moms with family incomes below $70,000 (there were no attending physicians in this group), 44% sent their children to private schools. For physician track moms with family income above $150,000, 41% sent their children to private schools. The group with the lowest fraction of private school attendance had family incomes between $70,000 and $150,000, in which only 24% sent their children to private school (Figure 1). This pattern was similar in the small sample of non-physician track responders, with the lowest rate of private-school attendance in the middle income group.
There are several possible reasons for the lower private school attendance rate in the middle income group. Among them is the possibility that the middle income level (between $70,000 and $150,000) allowed families to live in neighborhoods with good public schools, reducing the need for private schools. Alternatively, the middle income level might not allow families to afford private schools. In this scenario the lowest income groups would qualify for financial aid and the highest income groups would be able to afford private school tuition, leaving just the middle income group unable to afford private schools for their children. Our survey data could not address these questions.
Another difference between physician moms and the general population is the type of private school to which they send their children. Of the 12% of children in the general population that went to private school in 2007, most went to parochial/religious schools (9%) and a smaller minority went to nonsectarian private schools (3%) (National Center for Education Statistics: Trends in the use of school choice: 1993-2007 Statistical Analysis Report). In physician track families, however, 7% went to parochial schools and 33% went to nonsectarian private schools. For physician track families in our sample the percent that send their children to parochial schools is not substantially smaller than in the general population, but the percent of physician mothers that send their children to nonsectarian private schools is ten fold greater.
One final predictor of public vs. private school attendance was identified: the number of children in a family. Not surprisingly, the likelihood of a physician mom sending her kids to a private school goes down linearly with the number of kids in the family (R2 = 0.96; Figure 2). Given the average tuition for a private secondary school in the U.S., the cost of sending five kids in a family to a private school is prohibitive even for well compensated physicians.
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