(HealthDay News) — For physicians, the male-female earnings gap has not changed significantly since 1987, according to a research letter published online Sept. 2 in JAMA Internal Medicine.

Seth A. Seabury, Ph.D., from the University of Southern California in Los Angeles, and colleagues estimated trends in the male-female earnings gap among physicians, health care workers, and workers overall using nationally representative data from the March Current Population Survey from 1987 to 2010. Trends in median annual earnings were analyzed for 1987 to 1990, 1996 to 2000, and 2006 to 2010.

The sample comprised 1,334,894 individuals, including 6,258 physicians and 31,857 other health care professionals. The researchers found that in 1987 to 1990 the adjusted earnings of male physicians exceeded that of females by $33,840. Over time, there was no significant improvement in the earnings of female physicians relative to male physicians. In 1996 to 2000 the physicians earnings gender gap was $34,620, and in 2006 to 2010 it was $56,019 (P = 0.65 and 0.46, respectively, compared with 1987 to 1990).

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For registered nurses and pharmacists, the gender earnings gap was smaller than for physicians and workers overall, and it decreased over time. The gender gap was greater for dentists, physician assistants, and health care executives than for workers in a non-health care occupation, and only decreased consistently for health care executives.

“A gap in earnings between male and female U.S. physicians has persisted over the last 20 years,” the authors write. “The etiology of the persistent gender gap in physician earnings is unknown and merits further consideration.”