The Wall Street Journal (WSJ) responded to President Obama’s push for equal pay for women with an editorial by two employees of a right-wing think tank, the American Enterprise Institute (AEI). They claimed that gender disparity in salaries is a myth, easily accounted for by differences in hours worked, education, marital status, and occupational choice.
I’d like to share in some detail the results of a careful study that examined physicians’ salaries and found a persistent gender disparity that could not be explained by hours worked, education, occupational choice, part of the country, or race/ethnicity. A full PDF without paywall can be found here. This diary expands on my very brief summary of the paper in a comment to a DK diary on the WSJ editorial. More details follow below the Orange Stethoscope.
Study credentials: The study was published in 2010 in Archives of Internal Medicine, now JAMA Internal Medicine, a top-tier peer-reviewed medical journal. The authors are two PhD’s (a health economist and a biostatistician) and two MD’s (one in family medicine, one in internal medicine). All four are highly published experienced researchers (full disclosure: they are colleagues of mine; one is my husband.)
Study goal: The study was designed to compare hourly wages of physicians between primary care and other specialties, and also looked at the effects of factors such as race, sex, and region.
Study methods: The investigators used wage data from a nationally representative survey of more than six thousand physicians, and compared wages across 4 broad specialty categories and 41 specific specialties, estimating statistically the effects of specialty, age group (a proxy for experience), race, sex, region, and other factors that might influence wages.
Results: The paper reports that women physicians earned an estimated $9.45 less per hour than men in the same specialty and region, and of the same race and age. There were also differences between specialties, but these could not explain the sex difference. Nor could age/ experience or region of the country or type of practice.
Discussion points in response to the AEI editorial in the WSJ:
First, women physicians earn $9.45 less per hour than men, or approximately $18,900 per year (if they work a 40-hour week; many doctors work longer hours.)
This difference is not an artifact of working longer hours. The hourly wage is lower, so women who work the same hours as men earn less.
The difference is not an artifact of education. Every physician – male or female - has gone through college, medical school, residency, and advanced training as needed for their specialty.
The difference is not an artifact of occupational choice. Women pediatricians earn less on average than their male counterparts. Women neurosurgeons earn more than pediatricians, but less than male neurosurgeons.
The difference is also not an artifact of race, or where the doctors live, or whether they are working for Kaiser health plans or operating a small clinic. The researchers took those differences into account. The only AEI hypothesis not specifically examined was marriage. The proportion of women physicians who are married, though, is comparable to or slightly less than that of men, so unless married women are systematically paid less than married men who work the same hours, that hypothesis cannot account for the difference.
Bottom line: Salary disparities for women are real. Critical thinking at AEI is a myth.