- Over the course of a 40-year career, a male physician will earn an average adjusted gross income of $8.3 million while a female physician earns $6.3 million, according to research from the nonprofit Rand Corporation published Monday in Health Affairs.
- The gap is largest in surgical specialties where male physicians earned about $2.5 million more than female physicians — and smallest in primary care, where male physicians earned about $900,000 more than female physicians over a career.
- Female physicians earned significantly less than their male peers even when accounting for factors including hours worked, clinical revenue, practice type, specialty and location and years of experience, according to the report.
Despite being highly trained professionals, physicians experience a massive wage gap that can leave women making $2 million less than their male counterparts over the course of their careers, according to the new research.
And women don't catch up in terms of income later in their career, despite working full time and having accumulated years of experience. Women also account for about half of all U.S. medical school graduates, according to the report.
The study, based on 2014 to 2019 data of more than 80,000 full-time physicians in the U.S., is the first to analyze earnings for male and female physicians over the course of a career, while prior research examines pay differences at a point in time, Christopher Whaley, lead author and a policy research with Rand said.
Researchers found that in the first year of practice, male physicians on average had incomes of $169,716, while women made around $127,262. That difference grew in absolute terms during the first 10 years of practice then remained stable, according to the report.
Female physicians bear a disproportionate share of domestic and family responsibilities during that time, and early accelerations in wage gaps have also been observed among other highly-trained professionals in different occupations, according to the report.
A number of other factors are to blame for the income discrepancies between male and female physicians, including gender bias from employers, structural sexism and compensation models that disadvantage female physicians, according to the report.
The findings are also likely an understatement. Incomes vary across gender but also by specialty, so women may also face more barriers to working in higher-paid surgical specialties than men, Whaley said.
The survey also found that female physicians had fewer years of experience than male physicians (16.5 years compared to 19.5 years), and women were less likely to work in a hospital-based practice.
Women also worked 2.5 fewer hours a week than men on average and had lower annual Medicare reimbursement and billed services for fewer Medicare patients per year, the study found.
Some remedies for the major differences in lifetime earnings among male and female physicians include increasing salary transparency, along with policies that stave off wage gaps early in women's careers to reduce differences over time, the study said.