Examining the Gap (2017)

PA Gender Predicts Salary

October 24, 2017

By Timothy C. McCall, PhD

Executive Summary: AAPA has continued to monitor compensation in the PA profession. Fifty years after the PA profession began, women are still compensated less than men, though the well-known gender pay gap has changed over time, and is smaller this year than ever. The pay gap in the profession remains even when AAPA controls for major factors such as hours worked, experience, specialty, and other factors. The profession still has a way to go to achieve pay equity. AAPA recommends employers begin to take steps to reduce this disparity through transparency and not requiring past salary in negotiation.

Despite many years of progress, women PAs are often compensated less than men PAs, even when the analysis controls for factors such as years of experience, location, specialty, type of employer, and other factors that could affect compensation.  We have examined the PA gender pay gap in a recently published article in Women’s Health Issues, which utilized 2014 compensation data.  This article serves as an update to our recently published article, and looks at AAPA’s newest PA compensation data for the year 2016 (Smith, Cawley, & McCall, 2017). For a more in-depth look at the model used for this and our previous analysis, we refer you to our published article.

For decades, a well-publicized gender pay gap has persisted across many professions. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, women in the United States are paid $0.82 for every dollar men are paid (BLS, 2016). In 2014, the World Economic Forum predicted that gender pay equality will not occur worldwide until at least 2095. The United States ranks 65th of 142 nations in terms of wage equality, and 20th for overall gender equality.

While the PA gender pay gap is smaller than in many professions, AAPA has continued to collect and examine the compensation of PAs to determine whether this disparity is decreasing, increasing, or has remained stable when controlling for numerous factors that affect compensation. In 2016, the PA profession saw its smallest gender compensation gap of the last two decades, though we acknowledge that any gender-based pay difference is unacceptable.

The Gender Gap in 2016 – A Look at the Raw Data
Figure 1 shows female PA median base salary as a percentage of male PA median base salary over time; as the percentage gets closer to 100% base salaries are increasingly equal. While the trajectory of the gender pay gap among PAs was volatile in the late 1990s, it steadily worsened during the 2000s. In 2012, female PAs started to be paid, on average, around 90% of their male counterparts.

Figure 1. Women’s Median Base Salary as a Percentage of Men’s Salary From 1997 to 2016

Women’s Median Base Salary as a Percentage of Men’s Salary From 1997 to 2016 line graph

Looking at 2016 salary data, the median base salary of all full-time clinically practicing women PAs was $10,000 (Figure 2) less than men’s base salary, and the median bonus for women was $3,000 less than the median bonus for men. Women were also less likely than men to receive a bonus at all (46.0% of women versus 52.9% of men). These disparities are present for all levels of experience (Figure 2) and in every major specialty area in the PA profession.


Figure 2. Median Base Salary From Primary Employer by Gender and Experience

Median Base Salary From Primary Employer by Gender and Experience bar graph

Unfortunately, the pay gap materializes almost immediately after graduation. This difference has the potential to compound as PAs progress through their careers, since salary increases are often based on the previous year’s salary, and employers establish a PA’s starting salary in part on their previous salary. A salary disparity that begins on a PA’s first day on the job can have lifelong implications for the PA’s compensation level.

The Gender Gap in 2016 – Controlling for Other Differences
Analyzing salary by experience level is only a part of the compensation disparity puzzle. It is important to consider other factors that may affect salary and cause a disparity. We found that base salary for men and women differed even after considering a variety of factors that might be expected to affect compensation.

In our analyses, we controlled for:

  • Years of experience,
  • Hours worked weekly
  • Weeks worked annually
  • Geographic region
  • Major specialty area
  • Whether a bonus was received
  • Whether a PA is in a leadership role
  • Whether a PA owns or shares ownership in a practice

Even after controlling for those differences, in 2016, mean base salary is estimated to still differ by about 7% between men and women; in other words, women were still only being paid $.93 for every dollar men were paid after controlling for a variety of factors.  The good news is that this represents an improvement from only two years earlier, which is the year analyzed in the recently published Women’s Health Issues article.

The PA profession has come far in 50 years, but we still have a way to go before equal pay is achieved. While there have been shifts in recent years toward more equitable pay, it is still unclear what the future trajectory will be. AAPA will continue to work for fair and competitive salaries for women and men in the PA profession.  To that end, AAPA encourages PAs to know their value and consider pushing further to negotiate terms of compensation during the hiring and review processes.  We urge employers to strive for transparency with regard to compensation practices, end the use of previous salary as the basis for compensation, and consider offering implicit bias training for hiring professionals in their organization.

This post was prepared by Tim McCall, PhD, Manager, Research at AAPA. Contact Tim at [email protected].

For more information about compensation issues:

Article from Women’s Health Issues

AAPA Career Central