More than 50 years after the Equal Pay Act was signed into law, wages of most U.S. women, including nurses, still lag behind those of men performing the same job. Annual salaries of male RNs run about $10,000 higher than those of female RNs, finds a study of 294,000 nurses. The pay gap narrows to $5,100 after adjustments for age, education, medical specialty, and other factors.
The researchers analyzed data from the National Sample Survey of Registered Nurses, collected from 1988 to 2008, and the American Community Survey, collected from 2001 to 2013. Salary gaps varied across clinical specialties and job positions. Salaries of female and male RNs working in hospitals differed on average by $3,878, compared with a difference of $7,678 among ambulatory care nurses. Nurse anesthetists showed the greatest gap, with men earning $17,290 more than women. In contrast, the gap between male and female RNs in middle management was just $3,956.
Overall, the men in nursing outearned women across settings, specialties, and positions, with no narrowing of the pay gap over time. A similar pay gap exists between female and male physicians.
“We were surprised to see this gap was so persistent over the years, given that nursing is dominated by women. We hope our study raises awareness of this issue and nurse employers will use our results to examine their pay data to find differences in earnings in their organizations,” study leader Ulrike Muench, assistant professor at the University of California–San Francisco School of Nursing told AJN by e-mail.
About 2.5 million women work in nursing, outnumbering men about nine to one. During a 30-year career, an average annual salary difference of $5,100 adds up to $153,000 in lost wages. “We need more research to examine possible explanations for pay differences and whether there are legitimate reasons for paying men more,” says Muench.
“Previous studies on the gender wage gap in nursing didn't account for education, nursing specialties, and other factors,” says Jennifer Stewart, managing director of Research and Insights at the Advisory Board Company in Washington, DC. “So we assumed that men earned more because they had more education or worked in nursing specialties that paid more. But Muench's study suggests that these factors do not explain the difference.”
We need to explore additional factors that influence salaries, including whether male RNs work more overtime shifts, fill harder positions like mercy flights, or travel more. “Or are male nurses more successful in salary negotiations?” asks Stewart. “If so, why? And most importantly, how can we narrow the gap?” —Carol Potera