April 17 2010 - Research from the Mongan Institute for Health Policy at Massachusetts General Hospital published in
Academic Medicine found that women researchers in the life sciences still receive lower levels of compensation than their male equivalents,
including those at higher academic and professional levels. The study also identified gender differences in career advancement paths.
Lead researcher Dr Catherine DesRoches said:
"The gender gap in pay has been well documented, but what was not understood was whether academic accomplishments could overcome the pay gap. Our study found that, across the board, men are being paid substantially more than equally qualified and accomplished women at academic medical centers."
Researchers explain that previous studies documenting gender inequality in compensation and academic rank did not consider differences in professional activities, such as leadership responsibilities. The current study investigated whether such differences exist, whether productivity (reflected by scientific papers published) continues to vary, and whether salary discrepancies persist after these factors are taken into account.
In 2007 researchers randomly selected more than 3000 life science investigators from the top 50 academic medical centers in receipt of funding from the National Institutes of Health in 2003-2004. Respondents completed anonymous questionnaires including details of professional activities; scientific papers published ; hours spent on professional, scientific and clinical activities; and total compensation.
The study found that women with the rank of full professor worked significantly more hours than equivalent men. This difference primarily reflected more time spent on administration and other professional tasks rather than patient care, teaching or research. There was no significant gender difference in hours worked by associate professors. Women at the assistant professor level tended to work fewer hours than men, the most common factor being less time expended on research. After controlling for differences in academic ranking, research productivity and other characteristics, researchers found women earned from US$6000 to US$15 000 less per year than their male counterparts.
Catherine DesRoches said:
"These differences may seem modest, but over a 30-year career, an average female faculty member with a PhD would earn almost US$215 000 less that a comparable male. If that deficit were invested in a retirement account earning 6 per cent per year, the difference would grow to almost US$700 000 over a career. For department of medicine faculty, that difference could be almost twice as great."
The researchers did not investigate reasons for differences identified by the survey, but suggest that the greater number of professional responsibilities taken on by female full professors could reflect their organisation's attempts to improve diversity at departmental and committee leadership level. Salary discrepancies may reflect on-going discriminatory practices or the specialist areas selected by women.
Principal investigator Eric G. Campbell, associate professor of medicine, concluded:
"Women working in the life sciences should not assume they are being paid as much as equally qualified men, and academic institutions should look hard at their compensation and advancement policies and their cultures. In the end, I suspect major systemic changes will be needed if we ever hope to achieve the ideal of equal pay for equal work in academic medicine."