Female Nurses Are Shocked That They’re Making Less—a Lot Less—Than Male Nurses

Nursing is an occupation that has always promised solid pay, but women still don’t earn as much as men.

(Photo: Reza Estakhrian/Getty Images)

Mar 25, 2015· 1 MIN READ
Samantha Cowan is an associate editor for culture.

Not even in nursing—a field women dominate 10 to 1—are employees exempt from a gender-based pay gap that gives male workers better wages, sending male nurses home with anywhere from $3,800 to $17,000 more than women make every single year.

The amount varies among specialties, but male nurses make an average of about $5,000 more annually than women, according to a study published in The Journal of American Medicine Association on Tuesday. Nurse anesthetists have the widest gap and general hospital nurses the lowest, with orthopedics the only specialty that did not report inequity.

The report highlights longstanding concerns of inequality that have flummoxed nurses and supervisors alike—if a field hires women the vast majority of the time and women frequently advance to leadership roles, how is the pay gap still so wide?

“I can’t understand it,” Tish Kilfoyle, director of home care nursing at Hospice of the Western Reserve in Cleveland, told TakePart. “It’s just wrong.”

As someone who hires nurses on a daily basis, Kilfoyle is confident her staff is paid according to their education and experience. “We have a scale that we pay all our nurses the same on, and it’s all on nursing experience and years of experience,” she said. But that doesn’t mean she’s surprised that male nurses still make more on occasion.

The study combed through the salaries of more than 290,000 nurses over 25 years, determining that male nurses made more money every year from 1988 to 2013. They study’s authors have taken into consideration location, age, race, marital status, and children, yet still report that female nurse bring home less for the same work. And with registered nurses making an average salary of approximately $66,000, that translates to men earning about 8 percent more than women.

While evidence of a pay discrepancy between men and women is nothing new, the persistent gap in this female-dominated field is surprising. “You may think women have caught up or even might be ahead of men,” wrote study author Ulrike Muench, referencing that women make up the bulk of the workforce. “But we find that’s not the case.”

Kilfoyle thinks the pay gap might have something to do with trying to diversify staff and having to compete for a small number of hires. “In some agencies…you need to meet your quota. You need to have a certain number of female, male, and different nationalities. So is that a piece of it if there’s inequity? That’s possible.”

While the study did not explore the reasons behind the difference in pay, Muench offered a few explanations, including that women may leave the workforce temporarily to have children, men have stronger negotiating skills, and, of course, plain old gender discrimination.