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Original Investigation
September 2016

Sex Differences in Physician Salary in US Public Medical Schools

Author Affiliations
  • 1Department of Health Care Policy, Harvard Medical School, Boston, Massachusetts
  • 2Department of Medicine, Massachusetts General Hospital, Boston
  • 3National Bureau of Economic Research, Cambridge, Massachusetts
  • 4Cardiology Division, Massachusetts General Hospital, Boston
  • 5Harvard Medical School, Boston, Massachusetts

Copyright 2016 American Medical Association. All Rights Reserved. Applicable FARS/DFARS Restrictions Apply to Government Use.

JAMA Intern Med. 2016;176(9):1294-1304. doi:10.1001/jamainternmed.2016.3284

Importance  Limited evidence exists on salary differences between male and female academic physicians, largely owing to difficulty obtaining data on salary and factors influencing salary. Existing studies have been limited by reliance on survey-based approaches to measuring sex differences in earnings, lack of contemporary data, small sample sizes, or limited geographic representation.

Objective  To analyze sex differences in earnings among US academic physicians.

Design, Setting, and Participants  Freedom of Information laws mandate release of salary information of public university employees in several states. In 12 states with salary information published online, salary data were extracted on 10 241 academic physicians at 24 public medical schools. These data were linked to a unique physician database with detailed information on sex, age, years of experience, faculty rank, specialty, scientific authorship, National Institutes of Health funding, clinical trial participation, and Medicare reimbursements (proxy for clinical revenue). Sex differences in salary were estimated after adjusting for these factors.

Exposures  Physician sex.

Main Outcomes and Measures  Annual salary.

Results  Among 10 241 physicians, female physicians (n = 3549) had lower mean (SD) unadjusted salaries than male physicians ($206 641 [$88 238] vs $257 957 [$137 202]; absolute difference, $51 315 [95% CI, $46 330-$56 301]). Sex differences persisted after multivariable adjustment ($227 783 [95% CI, $224 117-$231 448] vs $247 661 [95% CI, $245 065-$250 258] with an absolute difference of $19 878 [95% CI, $15 261-$24 495]). Sex differences in salary varied across specialties, institutions, and faculty ranks. For example, adjusted salaries of female full professors ($250 971 [95% CI, $242 307-$259 635]) were comparable to those of male associate professors ($247 212 [95% CI, $241 850-$252 575]). Among specialties, adjusted salaries were highest in orthopedic surgery ($358 093 [95% CI, $344 354-$371 831]), surgical subspecialties ($318 760 [95% CI, $311 030-$326 491]), and general surgery ($302 666 [95% CI, $294 060-$311 272]) and lowest in infectious disease, family medicine, and neurology (mean income, <$200 000). Years of experience, total publications, clinical trial participation, and Medicare payments were positively associated with salary.

Conclusions and Relevance  Among physicians with faculty appointments at 24 US public medical schools, significant sex differences in salary exist even after accounting for age, experience, specialty, faculty rank, and measures of research productivity and clinical revenue.