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Women in Life Sciences Suffer Salary Gap

Women conducting research in the life sciences receive on average about $13,000 less than their male counterparts--a salary gap that can't be explained by productivity or other professional factors. That's the conclusion of a new study conducted by the Mongan Institute for Health Policy at Massachusetts General Hospital, published in the April 2010 issue of Academic Medicine.

"The gender gap in pay has been well documented, but what was not understood was whether academic accomplishments could overcome the pay gap," said Catherine DesRoches, assistant professor at Harvard Medical School and leader of the study, titled "Activities, Productivity, and Compensation of Men and Women in the Life Sciences." "Our study found that, across the board, men are being paid substantially more than equally qualified and accomplished women at academic medical centers."

Expanding beyond previous studies to examine disparities in compensation, this one was also designed to investigate whether professional activities differed by gender and whether professional productivity--as reflected by the number of scientific papers published--continued to vary.

In 2007 the researchers surveyed 3,080 life sciences faculty at the top 50 academic medical centers receiving National Institutes of Health funding in 2003 or 2004. Respondents answered questions on professional activities, such as leadership positions at their universities; participation in federal panels or at scientific journals; numbers of articles published; hours spent on professional, scientific, and clinical activities; and total compensation.

Women who reached the rank of full professor worked significantly more hours per week than men of the same rank and spent more time in administrative and other professional tasks and not patient care, teaching, or research. Among associate professors, the hours were comparable, but women at the assistant professor level worked fewer hours overall, primarily spending less time doing research.

The survey reported that women earned from $6,000 to $15,000 less per year than men of similar levels of accomplishment."These differences may seem modest, but over a 30-year career, an average female faculty member with a Ph.D. would earn almost $215,000 less than a comparable male," DesRoches said.

Researchers theorize that the greater number of professional responsibilities taken on by female professors could result from organization's efforts to improve the diversity of their department and committee leadership. Salary discrepancies could result from continuing discriminatory practices or from the choices women make regarding specialties.

"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," said Eric Campbell, associate professor at Harvard Medical School and principal investigator of the study. "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."

About the Author

Dian Schaffhauser is a former senior contributing editor for 1105 Media's education publications THE Journal, Campus Technology and Spaces4Learning.

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