Female vets earn less than their male counterparts, new research from the College of Veterinary Medicine has shown – with an annual gap of around $ 100,000 in the top quarter of the workforce.
Inequality particularly affects the youngest graduates and the upper half of the workforce. This is the result of the study, the first comprehensive study on the pay gap in the veterinary sector.
“Veterinarians can choose many paths in their careers, all of which have an impact on earnings potential,” said senior author of the paper, Dr. Clinton Neill, assistant professor in the Department of Population Medicine and Diagnostics. “Similar to the world of human medicine, we found that the pay gap was larger at the beginning of their careers, but disappears after about 25 years. This has a big impact on wealth and lifelong income as men will have a greater amount of wealth at the end of their careers as a result. “
Neill and his staff examined the income, experience, and certification of specialist owners. The paper, published March 15 in the Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association, is also the first peer-reviewed publication for the newly established Center for Veterinary Business and Economics.
The reasons for income inequality are difficult to identify. The researchers cite unconscious bias, size of the practices, less external funding, and societal expectations as possible factors.
“The prejudices that affect women begin in childhood,” said Michelle Moyal, DVM ’07, lecturer and primary care surgeon at Cornell’s Small Animal Community Practice. Both Moyal and Associate Dean for Education Jodi Korich, DVM ’97, said they didn’t realize the inequality until after graduating from veterinary school.
The industry-wide impact of this trend can be linked to some common misconceptions, Neill said.
“When people discuss the gender pay gap, there is a common misconception about the role of practice ownership,” he said. “People mistakenly think that there is no such thing as a gender pay gap, but an ownership gap between the sexes.”
While they found ownership disparities, this did not take into account the overall pay gap.
Their analysis showed that the type of property also plays a role. For example, partnerships are more beneficial to women’s income potential than sole proprietorships, while any form of ownership benefits men’s income. In terms of the number of years of work, the study found that men with less experience move to higher income brackets than women.
“The further you are in your career, the more money you are likely to make, but men are making bigger leaps than women with every year of experience,” Neill said.
Cornell first saw a roughly even gender split in admission to the veterinary medicine program in 1979, and since 1980 women have increasingly outnumbered men. This was due in part to national efforts like the Higher Education Act 1973, in 2020 women made up 80% of the incoming veterinary class. The entire veterinary profession shifted to reflect trends in the student body in 2009 and stood at just over 60% at the end of 2019.
While the paper aimed to lay the groundwork for more solution-oriented studies, the researchers suggested that measures such as industry-wide income transparency could help fill the gap.
“The lack of pay transparency in most jobs in the US has created an environment in which inequality is hidden so that it persists,” Korich said.
In the future, the researchers plan to examine similar ethnic differences – veterinary medicine is one of the whitest professions in the country – and delve more deeply into topics such as behavioral and societal expectations women have towards men.
“It starts right in our homes and families: How is the workload distributed in our homes? How are career goals balanced within a partnership? “Said Korich. “I think that there are unconscious behavioral expectations in the workplace that often punish women for standing up for themselves, be it to negotiate their own salary or to put themselves in a position to move on from one company to the next Level up. In many cases, these behaviors persist because they are passed out. I think part of the solution is to raise awareness within ourselves and in our workplaces. “
Moyal has also seen similar social norms when dealing with customers. “One example that comes to mind is the time a human medicine practitioner questioned a treatment plan for his animal and didn’t agree to anything until he spoke to the male practice owner,” says Moyal. “These ‘silent’ factors also lead to the increased stress and burnout that many female vets face on a daily basis.”
Neill and his co-authors intend to work with researchers from various disciplines at Cornell to investigate such unconscious biases. “We hope this leads the next few studies on the income of underrepresented minorities and continues the momentum of equal pay for all veterinarians,” he said. “It’s the right thing and it will help the entire industry thrive.”
Melanie Greaver Cordova is the Assistant Director of Communications at the College of Veterinary Medicine.