Nurses have been aware for a long time that a gender pay gap exists in the field. Men have been out-earning women in nursing since 1988. In fact, in the past 25 years, the gender pay gap in nursing has not narrowed—and it exists consistently across all nursing specialties, job titles and work settings, according to a report published in the March 24/31 Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA).
While the nursing gender wage gap has been studied before, this new report offers new insights, says lead author Ulrike Muench, PhD, RN, of the University of California, San Francisco. “There have only been a couple of studies that have looked at gender earning differences in nursing,” Muench remarks. “They were conducted over 10 years ago and didn’t examine data over time. Our study is the first to examine a trend over time, and our goal was to include more [updated] data.”
While male nurses represented just 7% of the data sets reflected in the study, their salaries were higher than the female nurses every year from 2008 until 2013. The data sets included 88,000 RNs from the National Sample Survey of Registered Nurses from 1988 to 2008, as well as 205,825 RNs from the 2001-2013 American Community Surveys. The resulting report reveals some interesting and perhaps surprising gender wage gap differences within various nursing specialties, settings and job positions. For instance, while the overall adjusted earnings difference was $5,148 per year, it dropped to $3,873 for nurses working in hospitals. But nurses working in ambulatory care settings have a gender pay gap of $7,678. And, male cardiology nurses earn an average of $6,034 more per year than their female counterparts.
The largest gender pay gap occurs among nurse anesthetists at a whopping $17,290, a statistic that perplexes Sharon Pearce, CRNA, MSN, president, American Association of Nurse Anesthetists (AANA). “From a practice standpoint, all nurse anesthetists — male and female alike — receive the same education and training, and they all provide the same safe, high-quality patient care for every type of procedure requiring anesthesia,” Pearce says. “The AANA and the profession, as a whole, would like to see this gap eliminated, because there’s no acceptable reason for there to be such imbalance in the pay scales.”
The AANA is looking closely at the research from various sources and will be educating its members and their employers to ensure that all CRNAs are being compensated equitably, says Pearce.
Muench says more research is needed on the nursing gender pay gap issue. Future studies will need to look into possible explanations. But, employers can do something about the gap now, he explains. Open-pay policies, increasing transparencies in compensation, and other measures could make a difference now. He points to a guide from the U.S. Department of Labor, called “An Employer’s Guide to Equal Pay,” which includes useful tips on addressing questions about wage gaps.
“I am hoping that our study can raise awareness on this issue and that nurse employers will use our results to examine their pay data to see if differences in earnings exist in their organizations,” Muench says. “If not, then this is a great outcome; if yes, employers can assess if there are legitimate reasons for paying men more than women.”
Why do you think male nurses earn more than female nurses, and what do you think female nurses can do to negotiate a more equitable pay? Let us know in the comments below!