Despite a diminishing gender wage gap in the general work force, the health care sector seems to be clinging onto pay inequity with unparalleled tenacity. In fact, the gender pay gap between male and female doctors, dentists, and other health-care workers has grown in the past twenty years, from 20 percent to 25.3 percent — a difference of $56,019 per year.
A new study in the Journal of the American Medical Association details these troubling findings. (To anyone who would like to make a comment such as "It's probably because women work fewer hours because you can't do science when you have your period!!", I'm sorry to ruin the party, but the study adjusted for specialty, practice type, and hours worked "to avoid overstating gender differences.") The study also found salary difference between men and women acting as researchers.
As the Washington Post points out, this egregious discrepancy might have something to do with the fields that men and women typically choose to pursue: men in the health care field are far more likely to become specialists, such as surgeons or radiologists, who earn significantly more than primary care providers. Women, on the other hand, frequently pursue pediatrics and family care.
The study's authors were unable to conclude what causes this difference:
Are unadjusted earnings differences between male and female physicians due to a preference of female physicians for lower-paying specialties (eg, pediatrics or primary care), or do female physicians have less opportunity to enter higher paying specialties despite having similar preferences as male physicians?
Is that even the most important question regarding medical work and the pay gap, though? As Amanda Marcotte notes over at Slate, the U.S. is experiencing a major shortage of general care physicians. "Instead of looking at this as an issue of simply getting more women into higher-paid specialist jobs," she argues, "we should also have a national conversation about why we don't value primary care physicians and pediatricians enough." Everyone stands to benefit from changing the system.