Female doctors still earning less than male doctors

It's a trend that persists: Newly trained female physicians earn lower salaries than their male counterparts, a new study suggests.

Only now, the reason isn’t clear. The researchers said traditionally women had chosen to be family doctors, who make less. But in the study, they said the gap – about $17,000 – isn’t explained by choice of specialty, practice type or working hours.

The study, published in the February issue of Health Affairs, shows that the disparity has been growing since 1999, when the difference was $3,600, to $16,819 in 2008. The data is based on doctors leaving programs in New York State, which has more residency programs and resident physicians than any other state (1,073 programs). It included 4,918 men and 3,315 women.

The dollar figure and the percentage have continued to grow: Women earned an average of $151,600 to start in 1999, while men earned $173,400, or 12.5 percent more. Women started at an average of $174,000 in 2008, while men got $209,300 in 2008, or 17 percent more.

The gap was present in nearly all specialties – female heart surgeons made $27,103 less, female otolaryngologists made $32,207 less and felmale pulmonary disease specialists made $44,320 less -- according to Anthony Lo Sasso, a professor and senior research scientist at the School of Public Health of the University of Illinois at Chicago, and the study coauthors.

He said the finding were significant since women now make up almost half of all U.S. medical students and are projected to comprise about a third of all practicing physicians at the beginning of this decade.

“It is not surprising to say that women physicians make less than male physicians because women traditionally choose lower-paying jobs in primary care fields or they choose to work fewer hours,” Lo Sasso said in a statement. “What is surprising is that even when we account for specialty and hours and other factors, we see this growing unexplained gap in starting salary. The same gap exists for women in primary care as it does in specialty fields.”

The authors said they could not rule out gender discrimination or that women may not be as good at negotiating salaries. But they also may be seeking greater flexibility into their schedules to accommodate family and settling for less pay.

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