Female physician-scientists are paid much less than their male counterparts, researchers found, with a salary difference that over the course of a career could pay for a college education, a spacious house or a retirement nest egg.
To get the fairest comparison, the study authors took into account work hours, academic titles, medical specialties, age and other factors that influence salaries. They included only doctors who were involved in research at U.S. medical schools and teaching hospitals, all at the same stage in their careers. And they still found men's average yearly salaries were at least $12,000 higher than women's.
Over a 30-year career, that adds up to more than $350,000.
The results are sobering and "disappointing. I think we have much work to do," said lead author Dr. Reshma Jagsi, a breast cancer radiation specialist and researcher at the University of Michigan.
Why the big disparity?
Two women who have been prominent in medical research say this: Men tend to be more aggressive at self-promoting and asking for pay raises than women.
"Male faculty members are willing to negotiate more aggressively. It may be social and cultural. It seems to be fairly deep-rooted," said Dr. JoAnn Manson, chief of preventive medicine at Brigham and Women's Hospital and a professor at Harvard Medical School.
While previous studies have found that female doctors are frequently paid less than male doctors, many observers have assumed that's often related to having children -- working fewer hours or choosing less time-consuming, lower-paying specialties to allow time for child-rearing.
The new study did find more women in less lucrative specialties, including pediatrics and family medicine, and more men in the highest-paying fields, including heart surgery and radiology. But it still found salary inequities even among women and men without parental responsibilities, in similar jobs.
The findings are from a mailed 2009-10 survey of 800 doctors who had received prestigious federal research grants in 2000-03. The findings appear in today's Journal of the American Medical Association.
Women's yearly salaries averaged almost $168,000, compared with $200,400 for men -- a difference of more than $32,000. Taking into account academic rank, choice of medical specialties and other factors that could affect salary, the difference wound up being $12,194.