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Roberta Ness, M.D., M.P.H.

Gender Bias in Salaries Prevalent among Pennsylvania M.D.’s, Find University of Pittsburgh Researchers

PITTSBURGH, July 17, 2000 — Female physicians in Pennsylvania earn significantly less money than their male counterparts, report investigators from the University of Pittsburgh Graduate School of Public Health (GSPH) in the July 18 issue of the Annals of Internal Medicine. After adjusting for demographics, training and practice characteristics, investigators found that among internal medicine physicians, men earn 14 percent more than women do.

"Over the past 20 years, women have accounted for an increasing percentage of the U.S. physician workforce, yet they have lagged behind their male colleagues in various measures of career success," said Roberta Ness, M.D., M.P.H., assistant professor of epidemiology and director of the Epidemiology of Women’s Health Program at the GSPH, and principal investigator on the study. "Our results show that in terms of salary – perhaps the most important marker of gender equity at work - these women are behind men."

Survey results showed that female doctors are more likely than male doctors to:

  • Be in low-paying specialties;
  • Be salaried employees and not in private practice;
  • Spend fewer hours per week seeing patients and doing administrative work, but the same number of hours conducting research, teaching and completing patient-related paperwork; and
  • Take more time off or to have worked part-time, in most cases because of child care or maternity.

Because gender-related salary inequality persisted after adjustment for all of these factors, investigators wonder whether gender bias may contribute to the gap.

"Across the board, female physicians are more likely than men to be involved in the least lucrative medical specialties and to spend fewer hours per week working," said Dr. Ness. "But even after adjusting for the compensation differences among various medical specialties, we found that the women earned 14 percent less per hour than their male counterparts. If left unadjusted, the gender gap is 28 percent less per hour."

To ensure a population-based, uniform survey, investigators limited their study to physicians who were practicing within the state of Pennsylvania and who were 10 to 30 years beyond medical school.

Questionnaires were completed by 232 male and 213 female internists, who provided information on demographics, training, board certification, practice type and setting, status within the practice, type and level of promotion, faculty appointment, marital status, number and ages of children, leave from work and salary. They also were asked about number of hours worked per week and how those hours were divided among patient care, research, patient-related paperwork, administration and teaching.

Specialties were divided into high earning (cardiology, hematology/oncology, gastroenterology and pulmonary), low earning (allergy and immunology, endocrinology, geriatrics, infectious disease, nephrology and rheumatology) and general medicine.

Previous research examining gender differences in career success among physicians has focused on those in academic settings. The GSPH study included practitioners in a variety of settings. Seventy-five percent of the respondents were not salaried academics.

Consistent with response rates in previous studies on physician salaries, about one-third of potential subjects did not respond. In this survey, men and non-academics were less likely to answer questions about salary. Since non-academics appear to be more highly paid than academics, investigators believe that had all potential respondents answered, the difference between men’s and women’s salaries would be greater than 14 percent.

"In an academic setting, institutional support has been shown to be less available to women, but efforts to improve this support have resulted in major gains in women’s professional advancement," said Dr. Ness. "However, we know of no models showing how to equalize the work environment outside of academia. Our study suggests the need for further examination of barriers to salary equity in the non-academic setting."

Established in 1948, the GSPH at the University of Pittsburgh is world-renowned for contributions that have influenced public health practices and medical care for millions of people. It is the only fully accredited school of public health in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania and is one of the top-ranked schools of public health in the United States.

For more information about the GSPH at the University of Pittsburgh, access the school’s website at http://www.publichealth.pitt.edu/.

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