By Roberta Attanasio, Forever Leaders Editor
More than 50 years ago, President John F. Kennedy signed the Equal Pay Act of 1963. In his remarks upon signing the Act, he said: “I am delighted today to approve the Equal Pay Act of 1963, which prohibits arbitrary discrimination against women in the payment of wages. This act represents many years of effort by labor, management, and several private organizations unassociated with labor or management, to call attention to the unconscionable practice of paying female employees less wages than male employees for the same job.”
However, despite the increased attention placed on this “unconscionable practice”, the gender pay gap is still alive and well in all 50 states. According to the American Association of University Women, the gap has narrowed since the 1970s, but progress has stalled in recent years, and the pay gap does not appear likely to go away on its own. In 2014, women working full time in the United States typically were paid just 79 percent of what men were paid—a gap of 21 percent.
Indeed, gender differences in salaries exist in many different professional environments. Here is a case in point. Results from a new study (Sex differences in physician salary in US public medical schools) published in a major medical journal (JAMA Internal Medicine) show that, on average, female academic physicians earn nearly $20,000 less a year than their male colleagues—”Among physicians with faculty appointments at 24 U.S. public medical schools, significant sex differences in salary exist even after accounting for age, experience, specialty, faculty rank, and measures of research productivity and clinical revenue.” Remarkably, salaries for female full professors were comparable to those of male associate professors.
The study was based on the analysis of more than 10,000 physician faculty members at 24 medical schools. Women physicians in the study were less likely than men to be full professors, and tended to be younger. When compared to men, more women specialized in internal medicine, obstetrics and gynecology, and pediatrics. Women also had fewer total publications, were less likely to have funding from the National Institutes of Health, and less likely to have conducted a clinical trial.
Interestingly, the researchers found significant salary gap variations in different specialties and in different medical schools. For example, while surgical specialties had the largest sex differences in salaries, women in radiology did not experience a pay gap. Similarly, in two of the schools included in the study, there were no differences in income by sex.
What is the practical value of these results? Although probably the study validates what women academic physician have always known, it also provides the basis for transparent discussion nested in unequivocal data. In an accompanying editorial, Vineet Arora, an associate professor of medicine at the University of Chicago, wrote: “Fixing the pay gap between male and female physicians in academic medicine requires more than just studies showing that it exists; concerted efforts are needed to understand and eliminate the gap.” In addition, she told The New York Times: “This paper is going to make women academic physicians start a conversation with their institutions to promote transparency and gender equality, because at the end of the day, it’s not fair.”
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