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What's the lifetime cost of gender salary disparities? It adds up, Johns Hopkins says

Efforts to eliminate gender disparity have cut the gap in salaries that men and women earn at Johns Hopkins, but the differences make an impact.

Jeff Lagasse, Associate Editor

Around the country, women physician researchers make 7 to 8 percent less per year than men, and those numbers can add up to a significant chunk of change over time.

At the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, efforts to eliminate such a gender disparity have cut the difference in salaries from 2.6 percent in 2005 to a statistically insignificant 1.9 percent in 2016. But even with that improvement and seemingly small pay gap, women faculty are likely to accumulate much less wealth over their lifetimes, the college found.

The researchers used new models of wealth accumulation -- taking into consideration how much faculty make, time between promotions, and the effects of salary on retirement and other savings -- to calculate the numbers.

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In 2002, after a report suggested the school of medicine was lagging in the promotion of women to professorship positions, the institution created a committee to pursue new ways to promote gender equity among faculty.

Beginning in 2006, this committee's recommendations -- including annual salary analyses, recruitment of women faculty, interviews with departing women faculty and expanded sexual harassment education -- were implemented.

Those steps made a difference, but gaps still remained.

The researchers designed simulations to calculate a person's accumulated wealth by taking into consideration whether and when they would be promoted, and how much money they could be investing for retirement at any given time.

The simulations assumed an annual 3 percent raise for cost of living, pre-tax employer retirement contributions of 12 percent, maximum employee retirement contributions of $18,000 per year (with additional contributions after age 50, as federal regulations permit), a marginal tax rate of 33.3 percent, and investment returns of 7 percent for equity markets and 3 percent for bonds.

They then calculated lifetime wealth accumulation under three different scenarios. A woman hired in 2005, they showed, would have accumulated $501,416 less in eventual salary and investment returns than a man hired at the same time if gender equity initiatives had not narrowed the pay gap from 2.6 to 1.9 percent.

In a more real-time, fluid scenario, a woman hired in 2005 whose pay and promotions were positively affected by the initiative from 2006 through 2016 would go on to accumulate $210,829 less than a man in that position. And finally, a woman hired in 2016, with the 1.9 percent pay gap, is projected to accumulate $66,104 less.


The researchers admit that the simulations are just that: simulations with several standard assumptions. Any individual person may follow a different career path in terms of promotions or make different individual decisions on retirement savings.

The salary gaps are likely larger in some medical subspecialties, the report asserted, but data parsed by specialty is not available. Also, pay gaps -- and differences in retirement savings due to educational debt -- likely exist in racial minority groups.


Physician researchers aren't the only ones affected by pay gaps. There has long been a pay gap between male and female doctors, but in 2017 that gap actually increased. Female doctors earned 27.7 percent less, or $105,000 less, than their male counterparts.

The disparity in 2016 was 26.5 percent, when female doctors earned $91,284 less. There was no medical specialty in which women earned more than men.

Twitter: @JELagasse

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