In a year in which Harvard's president questioned the abilities of women to do science, The Scientist's salary survey shows that women are coming up short in terms of compensation. The disparity between male and female median salaries grew $200 since 2004, and now stands at $21,700. The greatest gulf is in the highest ranks: $28,500 among department heads and up to $7,000 among professor positions. The pay gaps are much greater in industry than they are in academia – nearly $15,000 for PhD-holding senior researchers.
Part of the reason for these differences could be that "men are more likely to have been in a high rank for many, many years and have experienced the pay increases for longer than women have," says Kimberlee Shauman at the University of California, Davis, and author of Women in Science: Career Processes and Outcomes. But there's still a $3,000 difference between men and women who are junior faculty, and even at the postdoc level, which speaks to other reasons. "Research again and again shows that women undervalue their skills, they undervalue the amount of pay that they should expect and that they are willing to demand," she says; earning potential is a much stronger driving factor for men than women when it comes to choosing a job.
Specialization can make a big difference: men are more likely to work in the relatively lucrative field of drug discovery, says Sue Rosser, author of The Science Glass Ceiling: Academic Women Scientists and the Struggle to Succeed. Women are more likely to work at academic institutions that prioritize teaching, the lowest-paying of job activities, says Shauman. Other influential factors likely include the fact that women are likely to spend more time raising children than are men.
Salary by Highest Degree Earned
Salary by Job Title
But there's hope, says Shauman. "A lot of institutions have started to make concerted efforts to find out what's going on... and to make changes that can increase the representation of women and of historically underrepresented minorities." While it's too soon to see changes, Shauman says the survey numbers are "the outcome of a trend that has been moving, however slowly, toward equity."