More evidence of sex differences in physician salaries

This time, the discrepancies are in public medical schools. From JAMA Internal Medicine:

Importance  Limited evidence exists on salary differences between male and female academic physicians, largely owing to difficulty obtaining data on salary and factors influencing salary. Existing studies have been limited by reliance on survey-based approaches to measuring sex differences in earnings, lack of contemporary data, small sample sizes, or limited geographic representation.

Objective  To analyze sex differences in earnings among US academic physicians.

Design, Setting, and Participants  Freedom of Information laws mandate release of salary information of public university employees in several states. In 12 states with salary information published online, salary data were extracted on 10 241 academic physicians at 24 public medical schools. These data were linked to a unique physician database with detailed information on sex, age, years of experience, faculty rank, specialty, scientific authorship, National Institutes of Health funding, clinical trial participation, and Medicare reimbursements (proxy for clinical revenue). Sex differences in salary were estimated after adjusting for these factors.

Exposures  Physician sex.

Main Outcomes and Measures  Annual salary.

One of the biggest issues facing good research is a lack of quality data. You don’t want to have to rely on self-reported salary, for instance, because it’s possible that salary can be related to whether a subject responds or participates in a survey. The great thing about this study is that it relies upon the fact that Freedom of Information laws make it possible to get salaries for many physicians who work for public institutions. You can get them all.

In 12 states, you don’t even have to apply. The data are published online. The authors could get at more than 10,000 physicians working at 24 public medical schools. They linked this data to another database with detailed information on many other variables, including age, years of experience, faculty rank, specialty, success at funding and publishing, and Medicare reimbursements. And, of course, sex.

Before any adjusting, female physicians earned, on average, $206,641 to males’ $257,957. After adjusting for all the other variables, the differences became less, but still were $19,878 in favor of males. The adjusted salaries of female full professors were comparable to those of male associate professors.

Interestingly, there were differences by institution. Two centers had no differences in income based on sex. Five appeared to pay females more than males. That doesn’t mean there isn’t a problem, because many others had high pay gaps favoring males.

What’s the difference at these institutions? Is it policy? Something else? That would be worth exploring. It would be nice to stop pointing out this problem, and start talking about how we might fix it.


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