That Time of Year Again: "Equal" Pay Day

Apr 17 2012 Published by under [Education&Careers]

April 17, 2012, is the date when women will earn what men took home in 2011. Yes, it will take the average women almost four extra months to earn what men get in twelve.

When I grew up in the 1970's I spent no time worrying about this problem. After all, I was a woman going to medical school, then a male-dominated profession. If more women chose the MD instead of the RN we would catch up with those pesky d00ds. The answer lay in education, getting me and my "sisters" to pursue higher-paying fields.

Now women make up nearly half of new doctors, yet even we suffer a pay gap. Even in academia we make less, even in pediatrics, a specialty with lots of women physicians. I wrote in detail about a study that came out in January in Academic Medicine in which the Department of Pediatrics at University of Colorado performed a gender equity study. They found many gaps in the treatment of their female faculty, but the salary differences were impressive (figure below right).

Click to enlarge; data from Acad Med 87:98, 2012

All salaries were standardized to 1.0 FTE and compared to national means for rank, years in rank, and subspecialty. The average male faculty member received 105% of the median, while the average female received only 98%. Looked at another way, 51% of men had salaries at or above the median (black line in red bar in right column of figure), about what one would expect with a "normal" salary distribution. Only 28% of women earned in this range (black line in left column of figure). Remember, these data have been adjusted for part-time work, rank, years in rank, and subspecialty. The authors concluded that the department did not treat women and men equally, and salary corrections were implemented immediately.

These women got a break. First, this salary gap averaged $12,000, a gap they would "make up" with only 1-2 more months of work. They also worked in a department that did the study and made corrections. Women in lower-paying fields may take much longer to catch up to their male counterparts, and many of them have no idea how underpaid they are. If they cannot document the gap, then they cannot use the law to address it.

Pay equity is unfair. Pay equity is wrong. Find out where the candidates stand on fair pay laws. Then use your vote. Together, we can change the country.

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