The gender factor in life science research: the economic gap between men and women after controlling for professional characteristics
María Dolores Braquehais Conesa, M.D., Ph.D.
DesRoches et al. (1) have recently published an interesting study whose aim was to answer three important questions: 1) do the professional activities of life sciences researchers differ by gender?; 2) does professional productivity of researchers still vary by gender?; and, finally, 3) after professionals activities are accounted for, does salary vary by gender?
In order to answer those queries, in 2002 a group of researchers of the Mongan Institute for Health Policy (Massachusetts, US) conducted a mailed survey of 3,080 life sciences faculty members at the 50 universities whose medical schools received the greatest amount of National Institutes of Health funding in 2004. The response rate was 74% (n = 2,168). Different outcome measures of each participant were analyzed a) faculty member’s total number of publications; b) number of publications in the past three years; c) average impact factor score of the journals in which he or she had published; d) professional activities; e) work hours per week; f) numbers of hours spent specifically in teaching; g) activities related to patient care, research, professional activities, and administrative activities; and, finally, h) annual income. After analyzing the data, among professors, women reported greater numbers of hours worked per week and greater numbers of administrative and professional activities than men. Female faculty members also reported fewer publications across all ranks. After controlling for professional characteristics and productivity, life sciences female researchers were seen to earn, on average, approximately $13,226 less annually than did their male counterparts. We should ask ourselves what complex factors may be responsible for this considerable salary gap between men and women that cannot only be explained by productivity or other professional factors.
1. DesRoches, CM, Zinner DE, Rao SR, Iezzoni LI, Campbell, EG. Activities, productivity, and compensation of men and women in the life sciences. Acad Med. 2010; 85:631–639.