Mind the pay gaps

Published on November 28, 2018
Clinton Neill
Clinton L. Neill, PhD, presents data on wage gaps in veterinary medicine at the 2018 AVMA Economic Summit in Rosemont, Illinois. (Photo by R. Scott Nolen)

Wage gaps among various groups of veterinarians are best thought of as a Rubik's Cube, according to Clinton L. Neill, PhD—there are a lot of factors and moving parts involved in identifying and solving the gaps.

The gender pay gap has received the most attention because women comprise a majority of the profession. But other gaps exist. For example, male or female, veterinarians who are parents make less money than veterinarians who are not. And, although minority groups likely also experience pay gaps, data are lacking.

Speaking at the 2018 AVMA Economic Summit, Oct. 22-23 in Rosemont, Illinois, Dr. Neill said it appears the gender wage gap is relatively small among new veterinarians. For 2018, men who had accepted full-time employment (excluding those in internships and residencies) had a mean starting salary of $85,000, compared with $82,000 for women. That gap in nominal starting salaries by gender has closed in recent years, from 9 percent in 2012 to 3 percent in 2018.

However, the gender pay gap grows over time and is most prominent among veterinarians with incomes over $100,000 across all practice types. There is a 2 to 20 percent disparity, depending on experience level, between men and woman in the upper income brackets. One contributing factor may be that 46.5 percent of those in the upper income range are practice owners, and 59 percent of practice owners are male in this income range.

"We see that females do make less than their male counterparts," Dr. Neill said. "What is even more interesting is that ... those that do have children, whether male or female, see lower incomes on the average."

Dr. Neill, an assistant professor in the Department of Agricultural and Applied Economics at the Virginia Tech College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, is currently identifying factors related to earning potential for the AVMA.

There may still be unconscious biases within the hiring process, Dr. Neill said. During his research, he brought together six veterinarians and one practice manager for a focus group in the Atlanta area. A key takeaway from that meeting was that veterinarians with young children are likely to receive lower incomes.

"What they're expecting from new hires is for them to be working full time and for that to continue in the long run," Dr. Neill said. "They don't want somebody that is not going to be there. ... Across male and female, these hiring managers brought up that (they) don't want a young vet that has young children, because (they know) their children come first. They perceive that as taking time away from the practice."

Efforts to close the gender pay gap among veterinarians have included presentations by the AVMA, including talks for Student AVMA members on negotiating salaries.

Chart: Starting nominal mean salary by gender - Source: AVMA Veterinary Economics Division
The gap in mean starting salaries between male and female veterinarians has started to close in the past six years.

"As part of our student outreach efforts, the AVMA Student Initiatives Team has been offering one-hour lunch talk presentations on negotiations for over a year to our SAVMA chapters," said Dr. Caroline Cantner, assistant director for student initiatives in the AVMA Division of Membership and Field Services. "Student AVMA chapters have the opportunity to select this presentation topic for their annual AVMA on-campus meeting, and the presentations have been well-received by Student AVMA members. ... We look forward to continuing to provide education around this important topic to veterinary students."

Other organizations have been involved in efforts to close the gender pay gap, such as the Women's Veterinary Leadership Development Initiative, which has given presentations to inform women about how to look for alternative career opportunities, better network with colleagues, and gain leadership skills.

"Increasing women in leadership roles in our profession will provide valuable role models for women and encourage discussion regarding the wage gap and steps that can be taken to address it," said Dr. Bridget Heilsberg, president of the WVLDI. "It will only be corrected with consistent messaging over time—and empowering women to ask for higher salaries commensurate with skill and experience, regardless of gender."

The gender wage gap is not specific to veterinary medicine. Women across the U.S. earned about 82 percent of what men earned in 2017, according to a Pew Research Center analysis of median hourly earnings for part- and full-time workers over the age of 16.

However, while women may be paid less than their male counterparts, minorities across all industries are paid even less on average. In the U.S., black men made $710 and black women made $657 in median weekly earnings in 2017, while white men made $971 and white women made $795, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

In veterinary medicine, some experts report not having enough responses within data sets to make conclusions about pay gaps for minority groups within the profession because of the small number of ethnic minorities working in the veterinary industry. According to the 2017 BLS report "Labor Force Characteristics by Race and Ethnicity," about 92 percent of the veterinarians in the U.S. are white.

"Small size does not mean you can't get rich data," said Dr. Michael Bailey, a member of the AVMA Board of Directors and a veterinary radiologist, who is black. "The information is not there because of a lack of academic rigor."

Dr. Bailey noted that it is possible to measure small groups and said not measuring them is "intellectual dishonesty."

Veterinary medicine is one of the whitest professions in the nation even as the overall U.S. and global population continues to become more diverse, which raises concerns for Dr. Bailey and should raise concerns for the profession, he said.

"I am representing my profession, but I want my profession to represent me," Dr. Bailey said.

There have been some efforts to create diversity within the profession. The Association of American Veterinary Medical Colleges created its DiVersity Matters initiative more than a decade ago, seeking to increase diversity at U.S. veterinary colleges. More recently, Tuskegee University School of Veterinary Medicine, a historically black university, received a $7.1 million federal grant in 2015 to supports its efforts to recruit and train a varied population of veterinary students.

Smiling female attendeeAttentive male attendee

Attendees at the 2018 AVMA Veterinary Economic Summit listened to presentations on
the markets for veterinary education, veterinarians, and veterinary services. (Photos by
Sarah Beugen)

Related JAVMA content:

Women leaders continue to build their ranks (June 15, 2017)

Grant aims to give minorities a boost in whitest profession (Sept. 1, 2015)

Women taking the lead (Oct. 1, 2014)

AVMA collaborating with women's initiative (Jan. 15, 2014)

Conquering Barriers (Oct. 1, 2013)

The gender gap (April 1, 2013)

Study seeks to explain feminization of veterinary profession (Dec. 15, 2010)