Gender Differences in the Salaries of Physician Researchers

Contrary to researchers’ expectations, in a homogeneous group of select mid-career academic physicians, men earned $12,000 more in salary than their female peers, after controlling for many factors, including medical specialty, academic rank, and leadership positions.

While gender differences in physician pay are well documented, it is hard to isolate the impact of underlying factors, leading some to argue pay differences are “justifiable outcomes” of different gender-based career choices. Positing that gender pay differences would be unlikely in a similarly highly talented and motivated select group of doctors, these researchers surveyed physicians working in academic medicine who had been awarded prestigious National Institutes of Health “early career” grants between 2000–2003. Respondents answered a 39-question mail survey which covered factors that could influence salary levels, i.e., marital status, specialty, work hours, time spent in research, location, additional degrees and grants, and leadership roles.

Key Findings:

  • Men in the group earned more than their female counterparts, with a mean salary of $200,433, or $32,764 more than the $167,669 earned by women.
  • Women were more likely than men to be in the lowest-paying specialties, and less likely than men to be in the highest-paying specialties; this accounted for $17,874 more in salary by men.
  • If all characteristics of women in the group remained the same except their gender, women’s salaries would rise by $12,194; thus gender alone accounted for more than 37 percent of the overall salary difference.
  • This difference based solely on gender, amounts to $350,000 less in lifetime salary for these female doctors.
  • Noting gender differences in salary were surprising in this select group—and even more so given that they could not be explained by differences in specialty, productivity, or other measurable factors. The authors call the differences “difficult to justify,” and point out that they have not been eliminated through the passage of time.