Even in medicine, women are getting screwed

I work in a medical specialty that is dominated by women. Almost all of the physicians in my section are women. Almost all of my fellows have been women. Pretty much every one of my mentees is a woman. So this study caught my eye: “Gender Differences in the Salaries of Physician Researchers

Context  It is unclear whether male and female physician researchers who perform similar work are currently paid equally.

Objectives  To determine whether salaries differ by gender in a relatively homogeneous cohort of physician researchers and, if so, to determine if these differences are explained by differences in specialization, productivity, or other factors.

Design and Setting  A US nationwide postal survey was sent in 2009-2010 to assess the salary and other characteristics of a relatively homogeneous population of physicians. From all 1853 recipients of National Institutes of Health (NIH) K08 and K23 awards in 2000-2003, we contacted the 1729 who were alive and for whom we could identify a mailing address.

Participants  The survey achieved a 71% response rate. Eligibility for the present analysis was limited to the 800 physicians who continued to practice at US academic institutions and reported their current annual salary.

Main Outcome Measures  A linear regression model of self-reported current annual salary was constructed considering the following characteristics: gender, age, race, marital status, parental status, additional graduate degree, academic rank, leadership position, specialty, institution type, region, institution NIH funding rank, change of institution since K award, K award type, K award funding institute, years since K award, grant funding, publications, work hours, and time spent in research.

You get the gist. They wanted to see if men were making more than women in research. They, of course, are. Men make on average $200 433, versus women, who make $167 669. There are some valid reasons for this.  Women are less likely to go into higher-paying interventional specialties than men men are (except for obstetrics and gynecology). Women may also be more less likely to work full time. So the researchers designed the study to account for these differences.

Let’s get the usual caveats out the way. This was a complicated analysis that tried to compensate for the usual factors (excuses) people try and bring up when confronted with the fact that women make less than men. They accounted for demographic factors. They accounted for whether people were married or had kids. They accounted for other degrees, specialty, and leadership positions. They accounted for how many hours people worked, and the time they spent in research.

I think you could make an argument they were too conservative. After all, there are more men in leadership positions than women, even in women-dominated specialties. More men get promoted than women. Unless this is totally deserved, it’s skewing the findings towards making a case that men should make more than women.

But even if you ignore this, do you know what they found? Women are getting screwed. After controlling for all of the other factors, women were making a lot less less than men were. They used a Peters-Belson analysis, which allowed them to find that if you described a physician researcher, and then kept every other factor about him constant, but flipped his gender to female, that woman would make more than $12,000 less.

This isn’t the first time I’ve covered this issue. The last time I did, a commenter used the results as “proof” that women are inferior to men. We have a long way to go, even in academic medicine.


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