The report in this week’s Journal of the American Medical Association found that even after controlling for age, race, marital status and children in the home, males in nursing out-earned females by nearly $7,700 per year in outpatient settings and nearly $3,900 in hospitals.
Even as men flowed into nursing over the past decades, the pay gap did not narrow over the years studied: 1988 to 2013.
According to the Census Bureau, men made up about 9 percent of registered nurses in 2011, roughly a three-fold increase from 1970. And even though men were not permitted in nursing programs at some schools until the 1980s, they have overall earned more, just as in society at large.
The biggest disparity was for nurse anesthetists, with men earning $17, 290 more.
Ulrike Muench of the University of California-San Francisco, the study’s lead author, said in an interview that the data do not suggest why men earn more, although “some have suggested men have better negotiating skills” and are able to start out earning higher salaries.
Jennifer Stewart, who oversees nursing and other workforce issues at the health research group The Advisory Board, agrees that’s one possibility. “Also maybe some gender discrimination,” she adds.
But most people who study nursing trends say this is a difficult problem to sort out.
For example, says Stewart, because men have joined the profession more recently, women tend to be more senior nurses. But as such, they get to work preferred day shifts, even though night and weekend shifts tend to pay more.
Peter McMenamin, a health economist at the American Nurses Association, says that while ANA policy “is that there should be pay equity,” he’s not convinced the problem is as large as the study suggests. For one thing, he says, with so many women compared to men in the study, the numbers for women “are much more precise.”
But no one questions the overall finding that men out-earn women. And that is “dismaying,” says McMenamin. “We would like any differentials in pay to be based on skills and experience and not on gender,” he said.
By Julie Rovner, Kaiser Health News
Kaiser Health News (KHN) is a nonprofit national health policy news service.