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The gender pay gap for female doctors is deepest for those who are also mothers

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Female physicians earn about $100,000 less per year compared to male physicians with children. (Christopher Furlong/Getty Images)
Female physicians earn about $100,000 less per year compared to male physicians with children. (Christopher Furlong/Getty Images)

Fourth-year Dartmouth medical student Lucy Skinner has heard stories about how women are treated in her field if they have — or are planning to have — children.

“I had noticed in training that there are many specialties that are termed ‘family friendly,’ and often women are suggested to maybe look at family-friendly — primary care or pediatrics or family medicine —specialties that often are not paid as much, but might offer a better work-life balance,” she says.

Her curiosity led her to launch a new study recently published in The Journal of the American Medical Association that finds female doctors get paid significantly less over the course of their careers if they're married and have children compared to male doctors who have children.

This gap can amount to a staggering $3 million.

“For single women, the pay gap is primarily driven by earning less per hour,” Skinner says. “As we move to married [women], that same gap in earnings per hour is present, and there is a contribution to a reduction in their hours worked, and that reduction in hours worked grows as we then move to female physicians with children.”

Lucy Skinner found female doctors get paid significantly less over the course of their careers if they're married and have children compared to male doctors who have children. (Courtesy of Lucy Skinner)
Lucy Skinner found female doctors get paid significantly less over the course of their careers if they're married and have children compared to male doctors who have children. (Courtesy of Lucy Skinner)

When Skinner broke down the numbers, she found female physicians earn about $100,000 less per year compared to male physicians with children.

She hopes institutions that have doctors on staff will take her team’s data and recommendations to heart to do something actionable to ensure pay equity for female doctors.

Large hospital systems or health care systems should really look at the gap at their institution and see, are women making less across the board? And what is causing that? To ensure that women in the same specialty as men for working the same hours get paid appropriately for those hours worked,” she says.

Skinner also recommends child care be provided onsite.

“Having access to daycares at hospital systems, as well as having equal maternity and paternity leave, would normalize both men and women taking time off to take care of children,” she says.

As a medical student, Skinner says there should be more encouragement for women to pursue more highly paid parts of the medical profession if that’s what they want. Imagine if all specialties were family-friendly, she says.

“Over half of current medical students are female,” she says. “So the workforce is going to become increasingly female and [being] accommodating in allowing women to choose what specialty they want to go into, regardless of their desire to have a family or not, is really important.”

Skinner is graduating from the Geisel School of Medicine at the end of the month and plans to move to Boise, Idaho, to pursue family medicine, which she says is considered a “family-friendly” specialty.

“I'm really interested in rural health, so it was the specialty that kind of fit my goals there,” she says. “But I do think [my work has] really made me think, as a woman, about how important it is to advocate for myself in terms of negotiating my salary, because it's something I'm definitely very aware of how my gender identity affects my career goals.”


Ashley Locke produced and edited this interview for broadcast with Gabe Bullard. Locke also adapted it for the web.

This segment aired on May 4, 2023.

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Deepa Fernandes Co-Host, Here & Now
Deepa Fernandes joined Here & Now as a co-host in September 2022.

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Headshot of Ashley Locke

Ashley Locke Senior Producer, Here & Now
Ashley Locke is a senior producer for Here & Now. She was formerly with Southern California Public Radio, where she started as a news intern, before moving to the Boston suburbs in 2016.

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