An article published in JAMA today shows that although great efforts are made to balance salaries between male and female staff, differences still exist in pay rates, even after adjusting for differences in specialty, institutional characteristics, academic productivity, academic rank, work hours, and other factors.

Reshma Jagsi, M.D., D.Phil., of the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, and their colleagues gathered data to establish whether salaries do indeed differ by gender. They chose a relatively homogeneous group of physician researchers, focusing on this selected area of the population to minimize variability in aptitude or motivation as well as in seniority and content of work activities.

To gather the data they used a U.S. nationwide postal survey sent in 2009-2010 to recipients of National Institutes of Health (NIH) K08 and K23 career development awards in 2000-2003. The final group of people the researchers studied included 247 female and 553 male physicians with an average age of 45 years and 76 percent of respondents were white.

They limited the study only to physicians who continued to practice at U.S. academic institutions and reported their current annual salary, which should make the figures less biased as institutions usually have similar pay rates, compared with different corporations and private practice.

From the 800 subjects, the authors found the average salary was $167,669 for women and $200,433 for men. The male gender was associated independently and significantly with higher salary (+$13,399), even after making adjustments for the area the person worked in. Looking at a woman's job and comparing it to a man in the same role, it appeared a man would earn over $12,000 more than a women.

It also appeared that women verged towards lower paying specialties, with 34% of women in the lower category against only 22% of men. Women also seemed less likely to hold leadership or administrative positions with only 10% verses 16% of men in those kinds of roles. They also had fewer publications of their work, averaging 27 per year against 33 for men. They did, however, work less hours only 58 verses 63 for men.

The authors give a little more background information, saying:

"Studies have revealed gender differences in physicians' pay, but experts continue to debate the magnitude and cause of these differences. Some evidence suggests that disparities in pay are explained by specialization, work hours, and productivity, leading some to believe that they are justifiable outcomes of different choices made by men and women.

Debate persists in part because most studies of physicians' pay have included relatively heterogeneous groups, are now dated, or are limited by lack of information on key factors such as specialty or family characteristics ... It is unclear whether male and female physician researchers who perform similar work are currently paid equally."

They conclude by stating that:

"Ultimately, this study provides evidence that gender differences in compensation continue to exist in academic medicine, even among a select cohort of physician researchers whose job content is far more similar than in cohorts previously studied, and even after controlling extensively for specialization and productivity. Efforts to investigate the mechanisms by which these gender differences develop and ways to mitigate their effects merit continued attention, as these differences have not been eliminated through the passage of time alone and are difficult to justify."

Ultimately, it seems grossly unfair that a women doing the exact same job as a man should earn less pay. On the other hand, due to the nature of the different genders, there will always be women in the workforce who are less driven to push for promotions or take on leadership roles, or extra responsibilities and there might be a wide variety of reasons for this.

Written by Rupert Shepherd