Pay of medical specialists in New Zealand is gender biased

Nov 28, 2019

The gender pay gap is alive and well in District Health Boards (DHB) at the senior doctor level according to research out today.

“Women specialists earn on average 12.5 percent lower hourly wages than men,” said Dr Isabelle Sin, Senior Fellow at Motu Economic and Public Policy Research and lead author of the report.

“We compared doctors of the same age, in the same specialty, who work the same number of hours each week and found women earn substantially less than men. We tried improving our controls for experience and throwing in all the other personal and job characteristics that might matter, but we just couldn’t explain most of the gender pay gap,” said Dr Sin.

For specialists without children, there is a smaller but still statistically significant gender wage gap of 9 percent. This gender wage gap rises to 14 percent for those with one child and to 17 percent for those with two or more children.

“On average specialists who are women take five months off to have a baby. However, the wage gaps for parents can’t be explained by time out of the paid workforce. This is because the contract negotiated by the Association of Salaried Medical Specialists specifies specialists on up to 12 months of parental leave have to get the same regular pay increases as other doctors,” said Dr Sin.

The research found that the wage gap increases with age and is higher for specialists who work fewer hours each week in their DHB job. The gap is 23 percent for those who work 30 or fewer hours, even though specialists who work part time are, on average, better paid than those in full-time work.

The results of the research suggest that, at most, 20 percent of the 12.5 percent wage gap can be explained by differences in experience at the same age.

“In fact, hourly earnings are relatively stable for men and women over 45, which suggests that beyond a certain level of seniority, hourly wages are determined almost entirely by factors other than experience,” said Dr Sin. 

The research finds a substantial gender pay gap among new immigrants, which is consistent with male specialists disproportionately receiving additional payments beyond the contracted minimum.

The size of the DHB also made a difference to the pay gap between women and men.

“DHBs that employ fewer than 200 doctors have the largest wage gaps, averaging 19 percent. DHBs employing 500 or more doctors have smaller average wage gaps of 12 percent. DHBs of intermediate size have the smallest average wage gaps of 9 percent,” said Dr Sin.

According to the OECD, New Zealand’s gender wage gap in median earnings for full-time employees was 7.9 percent in 2018. StatsNZ defines the gender wage gap differently, including part-time as well as full-time workers, and calculated a slightly higher gender wage gap of 9.2 percent in 2018.

“What our study does differently is hone in on just one high-skill occupation and control for everything that should matter according to their collective employment agreement,” said Dr Sin.

The paper “Is the pay of medical specialists in New Zealand gender biased?” by Isabelle Sin and Bronwyn Bruce-Brand and funding by the Association of Salaried Medical Specialists is available at the Motu website.

Summary haiku

Despite union rules,
doctors’ gender pay gap still
stark. No clear reason.