Laura K. Nelson, Alexandra Brewer, Anna S. Mueller, Daniel M. O’Connor, Arjun Dayal, and Vineet M. Arora, “Taking the Time: The Implications of Workplace Assessment for Organizational Gender Inequality,” American Sociological Review, 2023

An overwhelmed woman in gray scrubs resting on a gray couch. Image by Cedric Fauntleroy under Pexels license.

In the United States, women on average earn less than men in their lifetimes (the gender pay gap). One of the various explanations for this pay gap is that women tend to do tasks that involve nurturing or helping others, and these tasks often don’t lead to promotions (or higher pay). Scholars argue that such labor is integral to organizations even though it doesn’t lead to promotions and is undervalued. But do such patterns hold in the medical field? 

To see if women doctors do more of the unrewarded but crucial work of nurturing others, Laura Nelson and her colleagues used data from an app used by doctors to evaluate students in residency (medical school). Their study examined 33,456 evaluations of 359 resident physicians by 285 attending physicians across eight U.S. hospitals. Within the app, doctors were required by their employers to at least leave a numerical rating of the students’ performance, however, reviewers could go beyond what was required and leave comments for the student. The researchers were specifically interested in this comment option and wanted to see if women were more likely to make comments to students within the app.

They found that women doctors do more work that involves helping or nurturing medical students than men. Women provided more written feedback to medical students in residency, whereas men were over twice as likely to give only numerical evaluations, without adding written feedback. Furthermore, comments written by women often provided targeted and specific feedback, including reassurance to residents who made mistakes. 

This research confirms that one of the causes of the gender pay gap is that women do tasks, such as going above and beyond in training medical students, that don’t lead to them getting promoted. This research also encourages people to not just think about time spent at work but also think about who is doing more caring and nurturing tasks at work.