But at one of the fastest-growing medical specialties, women surgeons earned more than men during their careers:
Over the past 25 years, new surgeons—particularly in more complex and expensive procedures—have paid out, on average, nearly $1.3 million more than male surgeons at the same specialty level, according to University of Pennsylvania’s School of Medicine.
Researchers at the University of Pennsylvania report that doctors ages 25 to 50 who treated high-risk, costly surgeries—inspections of heart valves, liver and kidney transplants, hysterectomies, and prostate surgeries—in 1987 earned on average $1.13 million more than men in the same year. In 1994, those new surgeons had pulled in $2.59 million more.
The results, published today in the Journal of the American Medical Association, are a puzzle. They point to increased competition, organizational diversity and a shift to a more expensive specialty. But less is known about the reason for gender gaps in money, as the data lacks detailed information from the usual sources. The researchers do identify subtle, but influential differences that can change. One is structure: More women than men manage teams: Women spent two-thirds of their time with their teams versus one-third for men.
The researchers attribute the gender gap in pay to heritability—not to gender discrimination.
“The big difference [in salary] between male and female surgeons is explained mostly by heritability,” said senior author Jack Murphy, a social psychologist at the School of Medicine. “All else being equal, men and women surgeons are treated differently. We think women are doing a better job than men of managing, of tending to small team dynamics, of collaboration.”
He added: “Women in this field generally perform better than their male colleagues. That gives them [the pay gap] more weight than discriminatory gender attitudes.”