Male nurses are paid more than female nurses – a pay gap that shows no sign of decreasing

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Male registered nurses are earning more than female registered nurses across settings, specialties and positions, and this pay gap has not narrowed over time, says a new analysis of salary trends published in JAMA.

male nurse holding hundred dollar bills
The salary difference between male and female nurses extends across the range of positions, including roles such as middle management and nurse anesthetists.

Although the salary gap between men and women has narrowed in many occupations since the introduction of the Equal Pay Act 50 years ago, say the study authors, pay inequality persists in medicine and nursing.

Previous studies have found that male registered nurses (RNs) have higher salaries than female registered RNs. In their new study, researchers from the University of California, San Francisco, sought to investigate what employment factors could explain these salary differences using recent data.

The researchers analyzed nationally representative data from the last six quadrennial National Sample Survey of Registered Nurses studies (1988-2008; including 87,903 RNs) and data from the American Community Survey (2001-13; including 205,825 RNs). In both studies, the proportion of men in the sample was 7%.


During every year, both of the studies demonstrated that salaries for male RNs were higher than the salaries of female RNs. What is more, the researchers found no significant changes in this pay gap – which averaged as an overall adjusted earnings difference of $5,148 – over the study period.

In ambulatory care the salary gap was $7,678 and in hospital settings it was $3,873. The smallest pay gap was found in chronic care ($3,792) and the largest was in cardiology ($6,034). The only specialty in which no significant pay gap between men and women RNs was detected was orthopedics. The salary difference was also found to extend across the range of positions, including roles such as middle management and nurse anesthetists.

Employers and physicians ‘need to examine pay structures’

“The roles of RNs are expanding with implementation of the Affordable Care Act and emphasis on team-based care delivery,” the authors write.

They conclude:

“A salary gap by gender is especially important in nursing because this profession is the largest in health care and is predominantly female, affecting approximately 2.5 million women. These results may motivate nurse employers, including physicians, to examine their pay structures and act to eliminate inequities.”

The results of a 2010 survey looking at the impact of the economic crisis on nursing salaries published in Nursing Management found that a nurse leader’s average salary fell by $4,000 between 2007 and 2010. In the same survey, almost 60% of nurse leaders felt that they were not receiving appropriate compensation for their level of organizational responsibility.

However, that survey found no evidence that workload for nurse leaders had increased. The respondents reported that they were still working the same number of hours per week as they had traditionally and were not responsible for more staff members than before the economic crisis.

“If you thought nursing was immune to the downturn, think again. The poor economy is keeping us working longer than we’d anticipated,” said Nursing Management editor-in-chief Richard Hader, “and in addition to wage cuts, organizations are freezing or eliminating retirement benefits, further negatively impacting employee morale.”

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