Women Dominate Nursing Field, Yet Men Make More


By Lindsay Tanner

Even in an occupation that women overwhelmingly dominate, they still earn less than men, a study of nurses found.

The gender gap for registered nurses' salaries amounts to a little over $5,000 yearly on average and it hasn't budged in more than 20 years. That pay gap may not sound big — it's smaller than in many other professions — but over a long career, it adds up to more than $150,000, said study author Ulrike Muench.

"We were somewhat surprised to see that this gap was so persistent over the years, given the female-dominated profession where you would think women may have caught up with men" or surpassed them, Muench said.

Five key points about nursing and the new study.


The average 2013 salary for male nurses was about $70,000, versus about $60,000 for women. Taking into account factors that influence salary including geographic location, nursing specialty and years of experience trimmed that $10,000 pay gap by about half. The gap was smaller in hospitals than in outpatient centers but it existed in all nursing specialties except orthopedics.

The biggest pay gap by position — about $17,300 — was for nurse anesthetists; the smallest — nearly $4,000 — was for middle-management nurses.

While average annual nursing salary for both genders has increased since 1988, the first year studied, the pay gap has remained unchanged.


Among the more than 2 million registered nurses nationwide, about 10 percent are men, according to 2013 data, the most recent year studied. Census data show the gender gap in nursing has narrowed a little since 1970, when only about 3 percent of nurses were men.

More men are getting nursing degrees than in previous decades, so the gender gap is likely to continue to shrink, said Peter McMenamin. He was not involved in the study.


The researchers analyzed 1990-2008 salary trends from a discontinued government survey of registered nurses, and from U.S. Census community surveys in 2001-13. Nearly 300,000 registered nurses were involved in both data sets.


The study didn't examine why the pay gap exists, but Muench listed several possible reasons:

—Some women nurses may leave the work force to have children, returning to a lower pay scale than male peers who continued working during those absences.

—Male nurses may be better at negotiating pay raises, as has been suggested in research on gender pay gaps in other professions.

—Gender discrimination.

Muench said studies are needed to determine whether any of these explains the gap.


"Are we surprised? No. Are we dismayed? Yes," McMenamin said. "Any pay differentials should reflect differences in experience and skill and not simply differences in gender."


Articles in this issue:


  • Masthead

    Editor-in Chief:
    Kirsten Nicole

    Editorial Staff:
    Kirsten Nicole
    Stan Kenyon
    Robyn Bowman
    Kimberly McNabb
    Lisa Gordon
    Stephanie Robinson

    Kirsten Nicole
    Stan Kenyon
    Liz Di Bernardo
    Cris Lobato
    Elisa Howard
    Susan Cramer

  • Don\'t know if this is the article, but it is along the lines we spoke about today.

  • Florenz Knight-Engale

    December 31, 1969 16:33 35

    I\'m curious of the researchers took into account variables like length of service, service gaps, number of job hops, and other characteristics of a career that can change rate of pay. Every time I change jobs, my pay seems to go down. And when my colleagues take time off to spend with their children (men and women), their pay stalls, irrespective of the years they have accumulated since they first became registered nurses. And more young women take a \"mommy gap\" than men take a \"daddy gap\" when they are younger and building their families. I don\'t think it is as simple as these researchers portend. It actually might be a bigger gap once everything is taken into account.

  • Mark Hanson RN MSIE

    December 31, 1969 16:33 35

    I am not sure of how the study was done. As a male in nursing for over 35 years. I would look at where men work vs. women. Men do gravitate to the areas that pay a premium. Two examples. For years we have a much more senior group of almost all male nurses working in our most critical care unit. The almost all female day shift replaces an almost all male night shift. The males have more seniority than the women. The work that shift due to the heavy premium they are paid for working it. Another example a relative now with 20 years of nursing has passed up multiple chances to get off nights. He would loose too much money doing it. The next study may need to look at where men work and it will explain most of the difference. I routinely see a ladder step 2 nursing with the same years of experience in the same type of unit within pennies of each other.

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