When it comes to pay inequality in the nursing profession, would you assume that female nurses make more than male nurses? You wouldn't be the first to think that in a traditionally female-dominated profession, women would earn more than—or at least the same as—men. However, the opposite is actually true: male RNs make more money than female RNs.
A research letter published in the March 24 issue of The Journal of the American Medical Association highlighted the differences in pay between male and female registered nurses. The authors pointed out that previous research has come to the same conclusion but that many of those studies were done with older data and were limited because they did not take the potential differences for the pay discrepancy into consideration.
This recent study used two surveys: the National Sample Survey of Registered Nurses (NSSRN) and the American Community Survey (ACS). The NSSRN ended in 2008, and the ACS was used to fill in the data for the interim years until 2013. To determine whether some RNs were paid more for a quantifiable reason, the study authors took into consideration factors that affect salary, such as education, specialty, work hours, and geographic location. With a total of almost 300,000 RNs included from both surveys, the results showed a clear difference in pay between male and female RNs. In fact, male RNs made, on average, about $5000 more every year than female RNs. The wage difference varied by specialty, with the greatest inequality found in nurse anesthetists, where the gap reached an average high of $17,000 (Table). The only specialty where there was not an inequality was orthopedics.
The difference is staggering, and it's not improved today than over previous years: male and female RN salaries have maintained the same gap all the way back to 1988 and straight through to 2013. The implications go beyond the justification that a fair day's work deserves a fair day's pay: according to the United States Department of Labor, there are 2.7 million nurses in the United States, and 90% of them are women. The lost wages in such a large group has a dramatic effect on the economy as well as on the financial well-being of female nurses and their families.
In addition, the demand for nurses over the next decade is expected to increase by 19%, an estimate that outpaces other occupations. Factors feeding the increase in demand for health care professionals are the aging population, coupled with more people having access to insurance and more patients using the healthcare system.
With the RN wage gap now studied, quantified, and making headlines, it may be more difficult to recruit women into nursing and, in particular, the specialties for which RN pay for women lags so far behind that of men. The authors of the study don’t have any answers as to why female RNs are paid less, but they call on those who employ nurses to take their study into consideration and "eliminate inequalities."
Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor. Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2014-15 Edition, Registered Nurses. Available at: http://www.bls.gov/ooh/healthcare/registered-nurses.htm.
Muench U, Sindelar J, Busch SH, Buerhaus PI. Salary differences between male and female registered nurses in the United States. JAMA. 2015;313:1265-1267. doi: 10.1001/jama.2015.1487.
National Center for Health Workforce Analysis. The U.S. Nursing Workforce: Trends in Supply and Education. Department of Health and Human Services. April 2013. Available at: http://bhpr.hrsa.gov/healthworkforce/reports/nursingworkforce/nursingworkforcefullreport.pdf.