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Are Female Doctors Really Getting Paid Less Than Male Doctors?

A recent headline in the Huffington Post asked, "Why Are Women Doctors Getting Paid So Much Less Than Their Male Counterparts?" The accompanying article maintained that female doctors earned, on average, $12,000 a year less than male doctors -- as long as those doctors worked in research or academia.

"Women physician-scientists are paid much less than their male counterparts, researchers found, with a salary difference that over the course of a career could pay for a college education, a spacious house, or a retirement nest egg," wrote Lindsay Tanner.

Bad news, indeed -- if it's true. But do these numbers, as the headline suggests, really apply to all doctors in the U.S.? PayScale decided to see what we could learn from comparisons to our data.

The first thing we have to look when we're reviewing this study's findings is the sample involved. In this case, the research is based on the results of "a mailed 2009-10 survey of 800 doctors who had received prestigious federal research grants in 2000-03." That's a very specific subset of medical doctors that may or may not be representative of the general population. We can't assume that these results can be applied to anything beyond the population surveyed. In other words, the results might be true for doctors who work in medical research, but it's not necessarily true for all doctors in major specialties.

We were interested in whether of the supposition in the headline actually extended to all medical doctors, so we did a little digging of our own. First, we looked at nine physician job titles: emergency room physician, neurologist, cardiologist, obstetrician/gynecologist, general practice physician, family physician, internal medicine physician, pediatrician, and radiologist. Using PayScale's database, we calculated pay for graduates from both genders and each job family. Finally, we established controlled median pay -- meaning, pay data that removes all differences except gender.

Ultimately, this gave us a chart that looks like this:

Job Title National Male Median Pay National Female Median Pay National Pay Difference Controlled Male Pay Controlled Female Pay Controlled Median Pay Difference
Emergency Room Physician $228,300 $200,200 -12% $228,300 $222,200 -3%
Neurologist $184,200 $178,700 -3% $184,200 $179,800 -2%
Cardiologist $252,300 $216,700 -14% $252,300 $225,600 -11%
Obstetrician / Gynecologist (OB/GYN) $213,600 $183,700 -14% $213,600 $206,300 -3%
General Practice Physician $137,300 $128,700 -6% $137,300 $129,400 -6%
Family Physician $153,700 $141,400 -8% $153,700 $144,300 -6%
Internal Medicine Physician $162,500 $148,000 -9% $162,500 $152,300 -6%
Pediatrician $136,800 $128,400 -6% $136,800 $132,000 -4%
Radiologist $289,800 $247,100 -15% $289,800 $275,900 -5%

As you can see, without the controlled data set, things look pretty dire. National pay differences range from as little as 3 percent, for neurologists, to 15 percent, for radiologists. Four job families had differences larger than 10 percent.

When we look at the data that's controlled for all factors other than gender, we get a different story, however. There, most differences are in the 2 to 6 percent range, with only one job family -- cardiologist -- coming in at more than 10 percent.

Why are our numbers so different than the Huffington Post's? Some of it might have to do with the differences between samples. It's possible that research settings are less gender equitable than other medical environments. But it's also possible that the data, while controlled for things academic titles, medical specialties, and age, didn't take into account every possible variant, besides gender, that could affect our interpretation of the numbers.

Regardless, it's obvious that there is at least some inequity in pay between men and women's salaries in the medical field, a fact that some researchers in the HuffPost article attributed to men being more aggressive about asking for raises.

Ultimately, though, in the field at large as opposed to medical research in particular, the differences don't seem to be as great as we might think.

Source: All data is from online salary database PayScale.com. The median pay is the national median (50th percentile) annual total cash compensation. Data is from the years January 2008 to June 2012, so these earnings figures are in current dollars. Controlled median pay was calculated by summing up the national median pay and multiplying it by a differential that controls for all factors except gender. Years experience refers to the number of years the respondent has spent in their field/career, which incorporates all applicable jobs in the field, not just the current job. All pay values are calculated for workers across all years of experience.

More From PayScale:

Do Men Really Earn More Than Women?

8 Ways to Maintain Top Productivity on a Hectic Schedule

11 Leadership Tips to Transition From Employee to Boss Maleandfemaledocs

(Photo Credit: JillK61/Flickr)

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