Gender Pay Gap Persists Among Dentists, Physicians, and Lawyers

Posted By Terri Williams on May 1, 2017 at 1:18 pm
Gender Pay Gap Persists Among Dentists, Physicians, and Lawyers

To our readers: Today GoodCall® begins a two-part look at the gender pay gap and where it pops up. First, writer Terri Williams finds the gap in three professions you might not expect to see it – among dentists, physicians and lawyers. On Tuesday, Terri examines the college majors that lead to the largest gender pay gaps within five years of graduation.


The gender pay gap, with its many causes and possible solutions, confounds with its complexity. One cause is gender-based selection of college majors. A Georgetown Center for Education and the Workforce study of college majors dominated by men versus women reveals that most of the lowest-paying majors – such as education – are more likely to be chosen by women. Conversely, the highest-paying majors – such as engineering and medicine – tend to be dominated by men.

But as a general rule, how does gender pay look when students are in comparable professions? It doesn’t appear that the wage disparities are affected.

According to “Trends in the Earnings Gender Gap Among Dentists, Physicians, and Lawyers,” a new report in the Journal of the American Dental Association, there are unexplained differences in earnings among these professionals. The differences are “unexplained” because the study’s authors factored in other variants that would usually account for differences, such as age, children, self-employment, and number of hours worked. But, even after accounting for these factors, when the researchers analyzed U.S. Census data, they discovered the following:

Dentists and the gender pay gap

1990 2000 2010
Men dentists $143,874 $191,145 $185,192
Women dentists $65,744 $105,766 $120,475


Physicians and the gender pay gap

1990 2000 2010
Men physicians $187,027 $227,700 $234,201
Women physicians $97,020 $127,728 $145,061


Lawyers and the gender pay gap

1990 2000 2010
Men lawyers $138,553 $167,740 $171,284
Women lawyers $73,632 $96,627 $108,831


In fact, when looking at the 2010 data, the researchers found a 63.9% unexplained gender wage difference among dentists, a 57.3% unexplained gender wage difference among physicians, and a 45.0% unexplained gender wage difference among lawyers.

So what accounts for these differences?

Continuing education

Unfortunately, there’s not one single and simple answer. Christie Garton, founder and CEO of the 1,000 Dreams Fund, tells GoodCall® that wage inequality is such a deep systemic issue that the solutions are quite complex. For example, she says education is indeed a factor, but it involves more than attaining a professional degree. “Education also encompasses internal training programs, mentorship, teaching employees how to eliminate gender bias up and down the corporate ladder – in other words, education doesn’t stop after college.”

Garton says that “matching diplomas” won’t eliminate the gender wage gap. “There are inherent issues at play and those unaccountable wage differences don’t come from a measurable variable.” Instead, she says they’re the result of deep-rooted beliefs and learned behaviors regarding women in the workplace.

GoodCall® recently examined whether a requirement that women wear heels in the workplace is professional or draconian. “They should dress a certain way, speak at a certain volume, work specifically with a certain clientele,” Garton explain. “For example, a common mentality in law firms is that female attorneys should jump at the chance to represent female clients.” However, she believes that these types of archaic biases have no place in the 21st Century workplace.

Wage history and lack of negotiation techniques

Women may also earn less than men because their salaries are often based on previous pay levels or the ability to successfully negotiate a higher salary. Jessica Holbrook Hernandez, president and CEO or Great Resumes Fast, tells GoodCall®, “I’ve worked with thousands of women in their careers and the biggest issue affecting the pay gap is that women are not actively asking for raises/promotions and are not negotiating salary.”

Hernandez explains that most women tend to accept the company’s first offer – in part, because they have not been coached in salary negotiation strategies. “Fear holds many women back from negotiating salary: fear of being told no, fear of losing the offer, fear they aren’t ‘worth’ the salary they deserve.” According to Hernandez, some women are guilty of undervaluing their skills, abilities and contributions, and as a result, they also undervalue how much they should be paid. And, she says that some women also avoid negotiating because they don’t want to be perceived as being overly-aggressive or only focused on pay.

Their reluctance works well for companies. “Employers tend to lean to offering the lower end of the salary bracket when making an offer expecting a candidate to negotiate – but if the individual doesn’t, then the employer has cut labor costs.”

Hernandez says women may also be hurt by another practice. “Employers also request salary histories from candidates as part of the application and interviewing process.” While this practice is intended to weed out candidates who may have higher salary expectations than the company is willing to pay, it could also place the candidate at a disadvantage during negotiations.  “If you don’t negotiate what you are worth with one employer, it impacts the starting salary point with future employers.” Since they may base offers on previous salary history, Hernandez says the gender pay gap can increase and continue to negatively impact earning potential.

The usual suspects for the gender pay gap

While some of the reasons for these significant wage gaps were in the unexplained category, it should also be noted that some of the familiar reasons were also at play. Diamando Afxentiou, Ph.D., professor of economics at the New York Institute of Technology, and the school’s expert in this area, tells GoodCall®, “Education and continued investment in human capital are quite important in eliminating the gender gap because they address persistent issues related to occupational segregation – for example, fewer women in engineering, more women in teaching.”

And when both sexes pursue the same types of degrees, she says that entry-level salaries tend to be close to or almost identical for many professional occupations. “However, earnings between men and women diverge with years of experience due to cultural and sociological explanations such as career interruptions and/or lower weekly working hours – which are associated with a traditional female role – as well as the so-called ‘glass-ceiling’ explanation which is, unfortunately, a labor market discrimination,’ Afxentiou says.

And so, instead of having to “account” for gender wage differences because women have children and may work fewer hours, perhaps these issues should be addressed. Julie Anderson, senior research associate at the Institute for Women’s Policy Research, tells GoodCall®, “We need better supports for those balancing work and family – like paid family and medical leave and affordable child care that is available during expanded hours.”

Anderson agrees with Afxentiou that among professional men and women, starting salaries are similar but over time, other factors, such as children and reduced work hours, contribute to the wage gap. “Especially in the highest-paying occupations, there is a growing expectation as one advances in their career that they will work very long hours and essentially be ‘on call,’” Anderson says.

And whether it’s a child or another family member that needs a caregiver, it’s no surprise who usually steps up to the plate. “Due to traditional expectations and often, the lower pay of women, it tends to be a woman who either cuts back her hours, or moves to a firm or position that has more regular work hours, but lower pay,” Anderson concludes.

Terri Williams
Terri Williams graduated with a B.A. in English from the University of Alabama at Birmingham. Her education, career, and business articles have been featured on Yahoo! Education, U.S. News & World Report, The Houston Chronicle, and in the print edition of USA Today Special Edition. Terri is also a contributing author to "A Practical Guide to Digital Journalism Ethics," a book published by the Center for Digital Ethics and Policy at Loyola University Chicago.

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