Despite Women Dominating the Veterinary Profession, Pay Gaps Persist

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In 2009, the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) reported that women outnumbered men in the veterinary field for the first time. Since then, women’s representation has continued to rise; they now account for 63 percent of veterinarians, according to the latest AVMA data. Yet research shows that women still lag behind men when it comes to pay rates.

A March 2021 study from Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine (CUCVM) found an annual gender salary difference of nearly $100,000 among the top quarter of earners in the industry. The research paper, published in the Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association, used data from more than 2,700 veterinarians across the U.S. to determine income differences between men and women at various levels of experience. 

The pay disparity is most pronounced for recent graduates and the top half of earners in the field. Male veterinarians are also able to move into higher income brackets with lower levels of experience than women.

“Veterinarians can take many paths in their careers, all of which affect earning potential,” stated Clinton Neill, the study’s senior author, in a CUCVM news release. “Similar to what’s been found in the human medicine world, we found the wage gap was more prominent in the beginning of their careers but dissipates after about 25 years. This has large implications for lifetime wealth and earnings, as men will consequently have a larger sum of wealth at the end of their careers because of this.”

In addition to tracking experience levels, the researchers also looked at how practice ownership and specialty certifications can affect income. Surprisingly, the survey showed that although men are more likely to own their own practices, this factor did not completely account for the wage gap. In fact, having a partnership practice is often more financially beneficial for women than having sole ownership of a practice, the study reports.

“When people discuss the gender wage gap, there is a general misunderstanding about the role of practice ownership,” Neill said. “People mistakenly think that there’s not a gender wage gap but rather an ownership gap between the genders.”

The pay disparity has been a problem for the veterinary industry for several decades now. Pepperdine University researchers first examined the issue in a 1997 study, and the AVMA acknowledged the gap in its 2003 economic reports.

Cornell’s researchers believe much of these deep-seated inequities can be linked to the pressure women face to adhere to cultural norms.

“In the workplace, I think there are unconscious behavioral expectations that often penalize women for advocating for themselves, whether it be negotiating for one’s salary or putting oneself in a position to advance to the next level within an organization,” said Jodi Korich, the associate dean for education at the CUCVM, in the news release. “These behaviors persist in many cases because they are unconscious. I think part of the solution is to raise awareness within ourselves and in our workplaces.”

Researchers have suggested that more transparency about income across the industry could help combat the pay gap. They also plan to explore the income disparities among different ethnicities and the effects of behavioral and societal expectations on women veterinarians.

Lisa O’Malley is the assistant editor of INSIGHT Into Diversity. 

This article was published in our May 2022 issue.