Study: Female veterinarians earn less than their male counterparts

New research from the College of Veterinary Medicine at Cornell University confirms what many in the veterinary profession already knew—or at least suspected: Female veterinarians earn less than their male counterparts.

About $100,000 less, at the top end of the scale.

But lead author Clinton Neill, PhD, told NEWStat that even though other media outlets have jumped on that number, people shouldn’t focus on it. He said that number only applies to the top 25% of earners—those making more than $200,000 a year—most of whom are practice owners and specialists. “We don’t see a huge difference in the other 75% of earners.”

For those veterinarians who are also owners, the type of ownership—sole proprietorship versus partnership—made a big difference: Partnerships were more beneficial to women’s earning potential than sole ownership, whereas any form of ownership benefited men’s incomes.

In fact, specialty certifications made a bigger difference to women’s earning power than ownership did.

But while the findings show that men earn significantly higher incomes as sole practice owners than women do, they don’t show why.

He said the reasons for the disparity likely settle on personal factors such as age and experience, as well as factors about their working life, such as the type of practice they worked at, the number of hours worked, and whether the setting was urban, suburban, or rural.

But without more research, “We can’t really point to any specific reason,” Neill said.

The study also found that as veterinarians advance in their careers, men move into higher income brackets at lower levels of experience than women do, and men make bigger jumps in earnings with every year of experience compared to women.

Although that wage gap tends to narrow considerably after about 25 years, Neill said the implications for lifetime wealth and earnings are huge, because it means men will have a larger sum of wealth at the end of their careers.

Neill said the profession can help close that wage gap by encouraging income transparency and supporting women-owned practices: “Income transparency has shown to reduce the pay gap in other industries and I think it’s important to advocate for that,” he said. “Other research has shown that women have a harder time obtaining business loans and startup financing.”

Samantha Morello, DVM, DACVS, clinical associate professor of large-animal surgery at the University of Wisconsin–Madison School of Veterinary Medicine and lead author of a study that addresses the income gaps between male and female veterinary specialists, says there are a lot of similarities between the two studies.

“We showed that about half the number of women specialists are practice owners as compared with men, and women specialists in private practice generate incomes that are significantly (25–28%) lower than men,” Morello said. And that difference doesn’t go away even when factoring practice ownership into the model. “We still see significant income differences among owners.” Like Neill, she also found that partnership was more beneficial to women than being a primary owner, a finding she said appeared to be linked to the relative size of the clinic where they worked.

Morello agrees with Neill that income transparency can help close the wage gap: “There’s plenty of research showing the benefits of this in the business world, and how negotiation coaching can be useful as well,” she said. Perhaps more important, the profession needs to find a way to understand how personal life and professional life intersect. “Being able to support our [largely female] workforce through those challenging balancing acts will help us create a more sustainable, and subsequently, productive, work environment.”

She adds that veterinary medicine was a profession dominated by men, but now it’s dominated by women, so “it’s time to reimagine how we work to structure ourselves around that new demographic.”

Morello also hopes that the findings regarding the wage gap in types of ownership don’t discourage women from aspiring to ownership. “I still think there are a lot of positive benefits, from an economic standpoint, but also from a leadership, management, and role-modeling perspective, to young veterinarians, clients, and communities, that being a woman business owner can provide.”

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