By Jennifer Nguyen
A gender gap in salaries persists across most career stages for those employed in the life sciences, according to the 2016 Life Sciences Salary Survey published this week. Average academic salaries in 2016 were similar to those in 2015, but breaking these data down by gender reveals a more nuanced story.
At the graduate-student level, women earn $7,000 more than men on average. Salaries are mostly equal for postdoctoral scholars and research assistants, but a gender gap becomes apparent at the assistant and full-professor levels with women averaging $13,000 less than men.
Breaking the life sciences down into subfields, the survey found that wages varied depending on area of specialization, with biotechnology wages at the top, averaging over $124,000. Further breaking down each specialization by gender revealed that women make up less than 40 percent of fields with higher average wages like biotechnology, bioinformatics and drug development/discovery. Conversely, genetics, virology and molecular biology had some of the lowest wages in the survey and women represented more than 55 percent of each field. It is not clear from these data whether women occupy intrinsically low-paying fields, or if women are generally paid less, thereby lowering the wage of the field.
Corroborating this survey is a 2016 study that found that women in science, technology, engineering and math are paid 31 percent less than men one year after receiving their Ph.D. Importantly, this study demonstrates men earn 11 percent more than women after controlling for the field of specialization. This difference is attributed to whether women were married and had children. Childless women have a smaller wage gap with men than married women with children. Married men and women with children were equally represented in the study but women with children were the ones with lower salaries.
It is not clear if a skewed geographic distribution of women in the life sciences can partly address the gender salary gap. For example, if women disproportionately take jobs in areas with lower costs-of-living, and therefore generally lower salaries, this may be partly to blame for the wage gap. Nevertheless, all of the underlying biases contributing to the gender wage gap need to be addressed. Organizations like the Association for Women in Science and the American Association of University Women have materials to help close the wage gap.
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Jennifer Nguyen advocates for better training programs for young researchers and is interested in raising awareness of scientific research to the general public and making science accessible to everyone. She received her PhD in Biology at Tufts University and is currently a Science Specialist and Instructor at the Innovation Institute in Newton, MA.