By Ally Stoeger, OD
Recent statistics from Jobson Optical Research’s and Local Eye Site’s 2011 ECP Compensation Study reveal that male optometrists who are owners/partners showed average income of $159,449 vs. $117,611 for women. At face value, that’s a breathtaking differential. But we optometrists are analytical beings, so here are five points to consider:
1. According to practice management consultant Tom Bowman of OD Practice Mentors, “private practice optometrists typically witness the highest peak of personal income between their 12th to 25th year in business.” Because of a huge gender demographic shift in the numbers of female optometry school graduates over the past 20 years, large numbers of female partners are just entering peak earning years.
2. Peak earning years for private practice doctors tend to coincide with peak family responsibility years. Female practice owners might find they will hit their income peaks at a later age than men.
3. Females may have a lower net income because they may be more willing to hire additional staff to reduce practice responsibilities because of family responsibilities.
4. Females may locate their practices closer to home, or choose a partnership closer to home, to accommodate family responsibilities. These locations may be best for family life but may not be as lucrative as opportunities that are further away. A generation ago, the typical optometrist was a male with a spouse who did not have a profession or career. These doctors were able to move to areas where there was less competition than dual career couples of today.
5. Females may not be able to work as many peak income productive hours because those tend to be the hours their children are home from school.
It’s possible that women may encounter subtle discrimination when negotiating a partnership contract or negotiating with contractors. Senior partners and contractors are more likely to be male.
Once a female optometrist becomes a partner or business owner, what drives income is per patient revenue and practice management skills. It would be interesting to see a per-patient-revenue study and a per-hour-revenue study comparing male and female practice owners. Once you get to the level of practice ownership, I can’t think of a career that is less gender discriminatory than being your own boss in a private practice.
In your experience, is there an optometric pay gender gap? If so, how has this pay gap affected your career and that of your professional peers?