The Income Gap: Why Are Women Earning Less?


This special report was originally published in our June 2012 issue. WO will revisit this topic again this year.

You’ve come a long way, baby? In 1979, women working year round and full time earned 59 percent of what men did, doing equal work, on average. By 2010, that was up to 77 percent, according to data compiled from various government and economic sources. It seems logical to think that the gap would shrink even more when comparing women’s income to men’s income within one profession, such as medical providers. But a study published in February 2011 in Health Affairs showed that in New York, the gender pay gap among doctors was actually increasing. In 1999, the study found that there was a 12.5 percent difference in average salaries, but in 2008, that had increased to nearly 17 percent.

Advocates for women’s pay equity say it cannot all be explained away by lifestyle issues. Even when variables are identical—such as comparing workers in a region or state, by dates of graduation or in a certain profession or subsection of it—surveys come up with the same result: women earn less.

The pay gap in optometry

Among optometrists, there’s a gender pay gap, too. Earlier this year, Jobson Optical Research in conjunction with Local Eye Site released its 2011 ECP Compensation Study. Among employed ODs, men reported an average compensation of $114,025. Women reported an average compensation of $93,114—a pay gap of more than 18 percent.

Among ODs who are owners or partners, the gap was more dramatic, with men reporting an average $159,449 and women reporting an average of $117,611, a pay gap of more than 26 percent. All ODs surveyed were full-time practitioners.

The researchers shared the results in greater detail with Women In Optometry to see whether this gap could be explained by factors such as years in practice. By segmenting the data, the numbers in each category become smaller—but the results are interesting, nonetheless.

Optometric practice owners

Responding to the compensation study were 72 women ODs who are practice partners or owners. The average age of these respondents was 45, and 60 percent had been in their ownership position for 10 years or more. In comparison, 163 men owners or partners responded; their average age was 50, and 74 percent had held an ownership stake for 10 years or more. ODs who are partners or owners reported two categories: income and salary, if applicable. The income represents salary supplemented with commissions, bonuses and/or other payments. All income numbers are before taxes. Of note is that the salary gap among full-time women partners or owners who had been in that role for 10 or more years was more than 23 percent.

Employed ODs

Among employed ODs, the salary gap tends to be smaller. The average age of the employed male OD was 43, and the average age of the employed female OD was 36. The salary gap was smallest, 8 percent, among those ODs who had been in their position for 10 years or longer. Among newer ODs—those in the position fewer than five years—the salary gap was 10 percent. It’s not understood why the salary gap among those who had been at their position for 5-10 years jumped to 19 percent. Similar numbers of men and women reported in each category.

Read more of this special report here.