Gender wage gap in healthcare has narrowed, but remains

Researchers report finding a persistent wage gap between men and women across all sectors of healthcare, including in entry-level jobs.

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A wage gap still exists between men and women in the healthcare workforce (as well as the workforce at large). According to Economic Policy Institute, the U.S. wage gap in general was 21.8 % in 2023, little changed over decades. Worldwide, women face a 24% gap across the healthcare sector, according to the World Health Organization

So far, most of this research has focused on the higher levels of the medical fields — positions requiring an M.D. or Ph.D., or nursing degree.

Yet little research has examined the wage gap between men and women in healthcare fields that don’t require an M.D. or Ph.D., noted Bianca Frogner, director of the Center for Health Workforce Studies at the University of Washington School of Medicine.

Or how to eliminate these gaps.

In a paper published in Health Affairs Scholar, Frogner and colleagues found that the wage gap persists and that little is being done to solve it, she said. 

The researchers examined wage data from the Annual Social and Economic Supplement of the Current Population Survey, gathered between 2003 and 2021, to see how the gender wage gap in various healthcare fields has changed over the last two decades. They reported some good news in terms of representation by gender.

Women increased 8% in healthcare positions that require a master’s degree, and 42% in positions at the doctorate/professional level. At the bachelor’s degree level, however, growth was stagnant, with no change since 2003. Overall, women make up 50% of employees for those jobs that require a doctorate degree, up from 35% two decades ago, the report noted.

While those increases in representation are encouraging, the wage gap numbers are not, Frogner said.  The adjusted wage gap between women and men is 61%, the largest among workers in high-education healthcare fields such as physicians and other advanced practitioners. 

In 2021, the gender wage gap was the lowest among workers with a bachelor’s degree (88%), followed by those with an associate degree (82%), some college (77%), master’s degree (77%), high school degree (72%), less than high school (71%), and professional school/doctorate degree (61%).

The gender wage gap has stagnated or grown larger in some lower-education occupations in which men’s percentage of the workforce has increased. In these areas, Frogner noted, men are often promoted to management positions over women who compose more of the workforce.

For people of color who work in the medical healthcare field, the gap is worse, the report noted.

Hispanic women earned just 57 cents on the dollar and Black women earned 64 cents for every dollar earned by white non-Hispanic men. 

Training women for more leadership positions, even if they are in entry-level jobs, is one solution to the problem, Frogner said.

“We need to help women in low wage jobs find more opportunity for leadership, if not through education, then expanding their leadership roles” she said. 

For women doctors, the wage gap might start with hiring, but it is worsened when women spend more time with their patients than male doctors do, and by the average pay they receive, she noted. 

Moreover, Frogner said, the act of hiring women for these jobs is not enough. Factors to retain them must be considered — not only equal pay but also healthcare benefits, childcare, transportation options and flexible schedules.

“We need to make healthcare jobs more attractive, especially for women who may have been sidelined during the pandemic,” she said. “It doesn’t hurt to have more women as leaders in healthcare. We certainly don’t have enough.”

“We know that more women than men left healthcare during the pandemic,” she said. “We want to find out who is coming back.”

The University of Minnesota School of Public Health collaborated with Frogner’s team on this study. 


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