Are Nurses Immune to the Gender Pay Gap?


One may assume that with a gender slanted profession like nursing, there would be no gender pay gap, or at the very least it would be shifted in the other direction. Yet surprisingly, nurses are finding that it does exist, and on a much larger scale than you may think. Understanding why a gender pay gap exists in the nursing profession – and at all – is the first step towards closing it and creating pay equality for all.

What is the Gender Pay Gap?

There has been an increase in attention to the gender pay – or wage – gap over the last year, thanks in part to Hollywood. Well-loved actresses like Jennifer Lawrence and Meryl Streep have pointed out the pay disparity in movie making, making women all over the country stop and take a look at the pay rates in their own professions.

What you find when you break down pay rates and salary by gender is that men are typically paid more for the same jobs as women. Some even say that overall, women earn only 78% of what men do. Of course this number is only an average, and can change dramatically between professions and even regions, but it is still troubling to see that in terms of financial compensation men are valued more.

The gender wage gap is the term used to describe the difference between how much males and females are paid. It can be looked at from an hourly, weekly or even annual basis depending on the industry and type of employment. Experts cite a number of reasons behind the disparity of pay rates between men and women, and at the top of that list is just outright employer discrimination.

Is There a Gender Wage Gap in Nursing?

In a study released early in 2015 it was revealed that a male nurse will make on average, $5,100 more annually than their female peers. A number which has not narrowed at all since 1988. This was the first study to have looked back in nurses’ salaries history that far, and it clearly shows that for over 25 years a male nurse has been able to bring home more bacon for his family. This, despite having the exact same educational background, skills, and responsibilities as his female peers.

The gender pay gap amongst nurses is especially surprising when you consider that this is a field made up predominantly of women. Males make up only between 7 and 10 percent of nurses working in the United States. In this type of profession you would expect to see equal pay between the genders, if not a slightly higher rate for women. Yet even in a profession where men were not readily accepted until the late 1970’s, women are not receiving a salary that is competitive with a males.

The (Not Valid) Excuses for a Gender Wage Gap

The women’s movement of the 1960’s brought about a lot of changes for the gender, including the passing of the Equal Pay Act by Congress in 1963. This was supposed to put an end to the pay gap once and for all, creating a workforce where you were paid on your skills and merit, not on your gender or ethnicity. Despite this legislation however, the gender wage gap is still an issue that women of all professions must face, include the highest paid Hollywood actresses.

Naysayers to the problem of a wage disparity between male and female nurses may cite a number of reasons for the difference. These could include:

  • Women choose lower paying specialties than men do
  • Female nurses work less hours than male peers
  • A woman is less aggressive when it comes to negotiating a salary or wage
  • Women nurses are more of a liability as they leave their positions to build and take care of a family
  • Female nurses have a disinterest in furthering their careers by taking on more responsibility

You can note while reading through the excuses that not one mentions a nurse’s education, experience or skills, which is what a salary is supposed to be based on. Instead, the excuses given by individuals not interested in narrowing the gap all focus on presumptions of what a woman wants or will do. If nursing salaries were determined blindly, and based only on those facts, employers would be shocked to see who their highest paid nurses are.

If you think there is a pay disparity between the genders where you work, speak out against it. This practice has been going on for decades, but will only stop when enough women and nurses take a stand and refuse to accept it as the status quo – just like Jennifer Lawrence and other Hollywood stars have started doing.

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