Physician Compensation -- A Deeper Dive: Does Money Make Them Happy?

Carol Peckham


April 15, 2014

In This Article

Do Gender Compensation Disparities Contribute to Dissatisfaction?

Today, about half of all graduating physicians are female, and 61% of female physicians are under 45 compared with only 38% of men.[4] One could expect that the income gap between male and female physicians will be narrowing, and it is -- but it is still considerable. In 2010, male physicians earned 40% more than female physicians, and in the current survey they earned 30% more.

The gender pay disparity varies by specialty (Figure 2), with the greatest differences observed among plastic and general surgeons (28% and 37%, respectively). Primary care physicians reported smaller discrepancies but they were still considerable (13% among internists and 19% among family physicians).

There are more female than male pediatricians (53% vs 47%, respectively), and although there are fewer female than male ob/gyns (46% vs 54%), the specialty is fairly well balanced. Nevertheless, disparities are still significant in both specialties, with male pediatricians outearning women by 20% and male ob/gyns outearning by 12%. Urology was the only specialty to report higher-paid women than men, although the difference was very small (1%). Gastroenterologists came next with an income disparity of only 5%.

In looking at how men and women compare in satisfaction with their income, in spite of the income differences, women are often as satisfied (or dissatisfied). Where disparities are smallest, women are often more satisfied than men (Figure 3). In urology, where female respondents reported a slightly higher income, they are far more likely to be satisfied with their income (71% vs 41%). Female gastroenterologists make only 5% less than male gastroenterologists, and 55% are satisfied with their income compared with 46% of men. Even in some specialties where men are the far higher earners, women are happier with their income. For example, male ob/gyns outearn female ob/gyns by 20%, but 47% of women are satisfied with their compensation compared with 38% of men.

Nevertheless, Ileana Piña, a Medscape advisor and Associate Chief of Cardiology at Montefiore Einstein Vascular and Cardiac Center in the Bronx, New York, commented, "Women are not happy about salary disparities when they find out. For instance, salaries in universities are secret, so unless you are in the inner circle, you may never know. If you don't know, you can't complain. Now, I ask upfront for salary levels."

Why the Disparity?

A 2009 American Medical Association (AMA) report stated that gender disparities persist.[5] One study supporting such a finding concluded that female primary care physicians consistently earn lower annual incomes than do men.[6] Reports indicate, however, that more female physicians are employed (vs self-employed) than males, and they also work fewer hours than men, which may account for the difference.[4]


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