Female Academic Ophthalmologists Paid Less Compared to Male Peers

Published on: 

Female academic ophthalmologists were paid a mean of $50,300 less than male peers.

New findings suggest female academic ophthalmologists are paid less compared to their male counterparts, highlighting continual salary inequalities despite a growing number of female physicians in ophthalmology.

Data show female academic ophthalmologists were paid a mean of $50,300 (95% CI, $4600 - $96,000) less than male ophthalmologists.

“These results highlight the importance of women’s representation and empowerment in the field,” wrote study author Parisa Emami-Naeini, MD, MPH, Department of Ophthalmology and Vision Science, University of California, Davis, Sacramento.

Previous reports from the Association of Medical Colleges (AAMC) show an increase in representation of women in the physician workforce, reflected in the field of ophthalmologist at a rate of 14 - 17% in the early 21st century and increasing to 25% in 2020.

However, significant disparities persisted in academic rank, with proposed explanations suggesting differences in years of practice, number of hours worked, and fertility type. Despite this, the disparities continued when analyses controlled for these factors.

In the current cross-sectional study, investigators analyzed data for full-time medical school faculty that were categorized according to sex, degree, academic rank, and department. Data from the American Medical Colleges Faculty Salary report for the fiscal year 2019 - 2020 were used to determine disparities in total compensation for female and male academic ophthalmologists.

The report contained total compensation for 122,732 full-time faculty from 154 accredited medical schools in the United States. Moreover, a total of 84,980 faculty (40.8% female) were included, comprised of 1607 faculty (39.8% female) in ophthalmology, 16,142 faculty (32.5% female) in other surgical specialties, and 67,231 faculty (42.8% female) in nonsurgical specialties.

Data show female ophthalmologists were paid 77% of male median salary, which ranged from 77% (chief level) and 91% (instructor level). In comparison to other specialties, ophthalmology had the second lowest ratio of female-to-male salary (after general surgery, 75%), while the proportion was higher among nonsurgical specialties (82%).

Across all specialties, women earned less than men by amounts ranging between $25,100 (95% CI, $1000 - $49,300) in nonsurgical specialties and $104,400 (95% CI, $62,800 - $146,600) in general surgery.

Additionally, independent of an individual’s sex, a specialty with higher female representation had a lower total compensation. For each 10% increase in the number of women, an associated decrease of $49,100 (95% CI, $36,000 - $62,100) in total compensation for that specialty (P <.001) was observed.

“Future research and efforts to increase awareness and close the pay gaps are warranted to encourage more women to pursue ophthalmology and achieve parity in compensation,” Emami-Naeini concluded.

The brief report, “Sex Differences in Salaries of Academic Ophthalmologsts in the United States,” was published in JAMA Ophthalmology.