Gender Pay Gaps in Nursing: Are You Paid What You’re Worth?

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We’ve all heard rumblings about today’s gender wage gap, but this heated issue’s been around since women first entered the workforce. When President Kennedy officially signed the Equal Pay Act in 1963, women earned a measly 59.8 cents on the dollar compared to their male contemporaries. Today, that figure hovers around 79 cents according to data provided by the U.S. Census Bureau.

What’s causing these income disparities, and are gender pay gaps in nursing real? We decided to shine some light on this popular debate by looking at the statistics fueling the fire.

Crunching the Numbers: Who Makes What… and Why?

First off, let’s talk numbers. Looking strictly at annual earnings in a research study conducted by UC San Francisco, male registered nurses (RNs) earn $5,000+ more each year than female RNs in most healthcare settings across the board, and this gap is especially present within specialty areas. (Male registered nurses actually earn almost $11,000 more per year than female RNs, but 50% of that difference can be attributed to factors such as education, work experience and clinical specialty.)

Moreover, this income disparity has held steady over the course of the last three decades. This difference in earnings can add up over time, leading to a $155,000 shortage over the course of a female nurse’s 30-year career (or $300,000 when you use the unadjusted figures instead.)

Given that nurses are predominantly female, these salary discrepancies affect approximately 2.5 million women. How is it that, in a field where men are outnumbered by almost a 10:1 ratio, male nurses take home more money?

Alarming Statistics: Who’s Affected by These Pay Discrepancies?

  • The average salary for male nurses was about $70,000 in 2013, versus about $60,000 for women.
  • The biggest pay gap (roughly $17,300) is found among nurse anesthetists.
  • The smallest pay gap (nearly $4,000) is found among middle-management nurses.

In the cardiology field, male RNs earned $6,034 more than their female counterparts.

Orthopedics is the only nursing specialty that didn’t show a significant pay gap. The income gap is higher in outpatient settings than in hospitals, with men outearning women by $7,678 per year compared to $3,873, respectively.

Despite these numbers, the gender wage gap is relatively low in nursing compared to other fields. According to the Census Bureau, teachers and nurses face similar wage disparities.

Female elementary and middle schools teachers earned 91.4 cents to every dollar earned by men. That figure rose only slightly in secondary schools, where female teachers earned 92.9 cents for every dollar earned by men instead.

Factors That Directly Affect Nursing Salaries

Of course, these numbers don’t give us the entire story. When comparing male and female nursing salaries, it’s important to understand the variables that may contribute to any differentiations:

Gender Roles

 Women oftentimes leave the workforce to have children, which in turn leads to lower salaries based on total years of experience.

Some studies contend that male nurses potentially have easier access to overtime or extra shifts, as women are generally expected to assume more responsibilities at home. Since men are traditionally viewed as breadwinners, families may default to having men in healthcare jobs take those extra hours in order to maximize their incomes.

On top of these societal expectations, male workers are more likely to ask for a raise in pay.

Education

Male nurses tend to pursue higher nursing degrees than their female counterparts, and they’re enrolled in more RN programs than LPN programs. Additionally, more men enter BSN programs than RN diploma or ADN courses of study.

A large portion of nurses are women aged 65 and older, and while their experience is certainly impressive, they’re less likely to hold advanced degrees.

Male nurses, on the other hand, are likely to be young and possess higher degrees.

Specializations

While women outnumber men in the nursing field, men are represented more in specific nursing specialties known for their larger salaries. (In the United States, a higher percentage of Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetists (CRNAs) are men — and CRNAs enjoy an average annual salary of $160,000. Similarly, male nurses are more likely to hold doctoral degrees.)

Men make up a larger percentage of military nurses and account for over 30% of the nurses serving in the Army, Air Force and Navy. Military nurses enjoy additional benefits such as student loan forgiveness, housing allowances and affordable insurance plans on top of their competitive take-home pay. 

Male nurses also make up the majority of flight nurses on medevac helicopters — 53%, to be exact — and may be drawn to more “daring” nursing positions.

Regardless of these factors, the possibility of gender discrimination still exists. Interestingly, 49.4% of female RNs report being satisfied with their overall income, while just 45.7% of male RNs feel the same.

Tips for Bridging the Pay Gap

Feeling underpaid and underappreciated? Here are some simple ways to take action against perceived wage gaps at your facility:

1. Do your homework. Knowledge is power, so arm yourself with hard facts before running to management with complaints. What is the typical salary for someone with your level of education and years of experience, and how does your location affect your income?

What should you be making, and why? How does your work performance compare to your co-workers, both male and female? Review these considerations before you talk dollars and cents.

2. Negotiate your rate. As previously mentioned, women are less likely to ask their superiors for a raise in pay, so take the time to learn the art of negotiation. Build your case using logic and facts, and keep your poker face on throughout the discussion.

It’s not enough to simply ask for more money — show your boss why you deserve it, and demonstrate your leadership ability simply by “raising” the subject.

3. Support transparency. More and more workers are demanding increased transparency from the companies they work for regarding employee compensation. Support any and all legislative efforts that make this transparency mandatory.

4. Get creative. If you’re met with opposition to a proposed pay raise, consider asking your superior for an alternative. For instance, maybe you can work fewer hours for the same salary.

If you want it, do what you can to make it happen.

What are your thoughts on gender pay gaps in the nursing field? Do you feel that these compensation disparities are a result of gender discrimination, or do you feel that other variables contribute to the difference in male and female nurses’ salaries? Keep this important conversation going in the comments section below!

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