Women are paid 24 percent less per hour to perform surgery in Ontario than men, a new study has found. That's despite the fact previous studies show patients are more likely to survive, and less likely to relapse, if their doctor is a woman. The research has implications well beyond the field of surgery, pointing to obstacles that prevent women from getting fair pay elsewhere.
Dr Nancy Baxter of St. Michael's Hospital in Toronto collected data on what 3,275 surgeons were paid for 1.5 million procedures from 2014-2016. From this, she was able to demonstrate in JAMA Surgery that not only were the women paid almost a quarter less, but this imbalance was not changed much after controlling for specialty and the fact male surgeons were generally older and more experienced. Moreover, there was no difference in the amount of time they spent performing each operation.
The findings are particularly of note because most Ontario surgeons are paid using a fee-for-service system, which has been touted as a solution to the 20 percent pay gap identified in previous studies under the United States system. Their findings "dispel the myth that women don't earn as much because they don't work as hard," Baxter said in a statement.
The gap even extends to gynecology, the one field of surgery where women are now the majority.
Whenever anyone draws attention to the fact that women get paid less than men, a barrage of responses appear to claim this isn't due to sexism. Instead, it is argued, it's a consequence of the choices women have made – either taking time off their career for child rearing or choosing lines of work that don't pay as well. At the nastier end, there are often suggestions that women aren't as skilled at high-paying jobs. That must be the case, the argument goes, or they would attract better pay because the job market is so inherently efficient it always rewards the best worker with the highest pay.
In many other fields, it's hard to disprove these claims, no matter how improbable they may be, but surgery is unusual in that we have excellent records of the outcome of individuals' work. The job of a surgeon is to keep their patients alive and restore as much of their health as possible, and we have good data on how well they do that. The fact the pay gap for surgeons is pure sexism, probably through biases in referrals, strengthens the case the same is true in other fields.
Pay rates were almost identical for male and female plastic surgeons, but particularly glaring for ophthalmology, orthopedic, and cardiothoracic surgeries.