Women now make up about one third of the doctors and lawyers in the United States, the Wall Street Journal reports. But for those female employees who expect equal representation in the near future, a discouraging statistic belies the good news: Lady lawyers and doctors still get paid less than their male counterparts for doing the same job.
Since 1970, women have grown from 9.7 percent of physicians to 32.4 percent in 2010. In law careers, women have gone from 4.9 percent to 33.4.
But wages have remained significantly lower for women than men, a problem that the Wall Street Journal asked male Harvard Economist Lawrence Katz to explain. Katz faulted a women’s “individual choices” as part of the reason for unequal pay, and said that “discrimination could also be a factor”:
Despite women’s greater presence in law and medicine, wage gaps between men and women persist in both fields. In 2007, the median income—the point at which half earn more and half earn less—of female lawyers was $90,000, compared with $122,000 for male lawyers, according to research by Harvard economists Claudia Goldin and Lawrence Katz. The median income of female physicians was $112,128, compared with $186,916 for male physicians. Those differences are largely explained by individual choices, including women taking off time to raise children or opting for less-demanding career tracks or positions that pay less, said Mr. Katz. But a small portion of the gap exists for unclear reasons, he said. Discrimination could also be a factor, though it isn’t clear how much, he said.
Nationally, the average woman makes 77 cents to the average man’s dollar. But the numbers here follow the wider trend that women in the highest-earning professions face the most pay disparity. In law, women are earning about 74 cents for every dollar a man earns. For physicians, that drops down to 60 cents on the dollar. It’s estimated that over their careers, female doctors lose an average of $350,000 to this wage gap.
Institutional sexism is hard to overcome, but there are proposed legislative steps that might ease the pay gap. The Paycheck Fairness Act, which is currently a victim of Congressional gridlock, would have created more pay transparency, protected those who sued for pay equity, and increased the penalties for employers who discriminate. Additionally, there are proposed laws — paid maternity and sick leave chief among them — that would make a woman’s “individual choice” to have a child not negatively impact her career.