Exploring the Gender Pay Gap in Nursing

The United States government passed the Equal Pay Act in 1963, yet American women in all industries continue to make less than men (Sheth, Gal, & Gould, 2018). According to the Institute for Women's Policy Research, if the change in pay continues at the same rate of growth between 1959 to 2015, the overall wage gap won't close until 2059 (2017). Does this hold true in nursing? Nurses General Nursing Article Magazine

Exploring the Gender Pay Gap in Nursing

This article is featured in the July 2018 edition of our allnurses Magazine...

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While the number of men in nursing remains low, we have seen growth in recent years. Our 2018 allnurses Salary Survey was comprised of 5.78% male respondents. The U.S Census Bureau released a study in 2013 reporting that there was a total of 3.5 million nurses in 2011. Females made up 3.2 million of these employed nurses, leaving only 330,000 men in the profession (U.S. Census Bureau, 2013).

Here are a few things you should know about the numbers and factors that contribute to the current salary gender gap seen in nursing.

The Numbers

According to our 2018 Salary Survey, the average pay for male nurses with a BSN is $36.70 per hour, while female nurses with the same degree make an average of $35.20 per hour. This is a difference of $1.50 per hour, which equates to an annual difference of $3,120 for a full-time nurse working 40 hours per week.

While $3000 may not be that impressive of a number, when you consider this difference over the lifetime of a career, it adds up. If a female nurse works a total of thirty years, they will lose approximately $90,000. This does not include any cost of living raises that may occur.

Our survey revealed similar differences between male and female nurses with every license and degree type. What's behind these disparities? Let's explore:


Men have been going to college in larger numbers compared to women for years. According to Statista, in 1940 only 3.8% of women went to college, compared to 6.2% of men. Today, these numbers have grown considerably. As of 2017, there were more women with a college education compared to men in general, with 34.6% of women completing a four-year college degree compared to 33.7% of men (Statista, 2018).

If more women are enrolling in college than men, what could account for the difference?

Our survey showed that 53.64% of male nurses hold a bachelor's degree compared to 45.18% of females. When you move up to advanced degrees, the difference remains. A total of 8.1% of men reported having completed an MSN, while 7.9% of females completed the same degree.

While there is a small disparity among education, it does not appear that there is a significant difference between the levels of education of male and female nurses.


Our survey results showed that men and women work in different areas of nursing. The top three specialties for male nurses include emergency departments, med-surg, and cardiac units. Women's top three units were med-surg, geriatrics/long-term care, and emergency departments. Could this be powering the salary gap?

A recent study by Advance Healthcare Network (2018) indicates that being certified in a nursing specialty could increase your annual salary by as much as 23%. Many specialty areas offer higher base salaries as well, providing a more substantial earning potential. If men work in these more highly-specialized fields of nursing and have a certification, this could account for some of the pay disparities seen in our annual survey.

Social Factors

Social factors affecting career decisions have been different for men and women for many years. Non-work-related traits like gender, race, or ethnicity affect access to workplace opportunities that create advantages for some while denying these advantages to others (Bishu, Alkadry. 2017). A 2016 article by Stephanie Stephens on healthcarecareers.com revealed that while men make more than women, their satisfaction with salaries was equal at 44%.

What social factors influence the gender pay gap and salary satisfaction?


One social factor found in many studies is simple - men are more likely to engage in salary negotiations than women (Leibbrandt & List, 2014). One study found men were more likely to initiate negotiation conversations than women when no explicit statement was listed on the job description that the salary was negotiable. (Leibbrandt, List, 2014). However, if the job description stated that the wages were negotiable, the likelihood of negotiations was equal (21.2% of women and 21.4% of men).

What does this mean? The main finding of this study is that explicitly stating that salaries are negotiable closes the gender gap in job applications (Leibrandt, List, 2014).

Career interruptions

A 2015 study published by Pew Research Center shows that 42% of women have reduced their hours to care for a child or family member, compared to 28% of men. Another staggering statistic revealed that 27% of women have quit a job to care for children or other family members, while only 10% of men reported doing the same.

Women have long been the head of the household when it comes to children and care of the elderly or sick. Could this be decreasing the earning potential of female nurses? If a female nurse experiences a career interruption it will impact her overall wage potential as she works towards retirement.

While society's idea of men who stay home with children has changed, it is still a role primarily held by women.

Glass Escalator

A 2012 Forbes article describes the difficult history of women's success in the workforce. Once a closed door for all careers, women now work in most industries and have even started flooding the male-dominated corporate world (Goudreau, 2012). However, there have been reports that women have hit the "glass ceiling" or an invisible barrier that keeps them from entering into senior-level management positions (Goudreau, 2012).

Today, in female-dominated industries like teaching and nursing, women are met with a glass escalator. While women climb the ladder, it appears that men are riding an invisible escalator, straight to the top, taking senior level nursing positions (Goudreau, 2012). Goudreau explains that men tend to be promoted at a faster rate than women in female-dominated professions.

Why would there be glass escalator in nursing? One answer is related to career interruptions that women may experience when caring for family. But, if men can rise to higher level position in nursing quickly and make more money, why have we not seen a rapid increase in the number of men in the field?

Consider pop culture references of men in nursing. TV shows and movies like Meet the Parents provide a poor representation of the importance of male nurses. When will the social stigma end?

Final Thoughts

Do male nurses indeed make more than female nurses? It appears that the simple answer is yes. However, there are many workplace and social factors to keep in mind when comparing the bottom line of nursing salaries.


1. Sheth, S., Gal, S., Gould, S. (2018). Business Insider. Retrieved from: Wage gap, gender pay gap charts show how much more men make than women - Business Insider

2. U.S. Department of Employment Opportunity Commission. The Equal Pay Act Of 1963. Retrieved from: The Equal Pay Act of 1963 (EPA)

3. Anderson, J., Milli, J., Kruvelis, M. (2017). Projected Year the Wage Gap will Close by State. Institute for Women's Policy Research. Retrieved from: Projected Year the Wage Gap Will Close by State | Institute for Women's Policy Research

4. United States Census Bureau. (2013). Male Nurses Becoming More Commonplace, Census Bureau Reports. Retrieved from: The Equal Pay Act of 1963 (EPA)

5. Statistia. (2108). Percentage of the U.S. Population who have completed four years of college or more from 1940 to 2017, by gender. Retrieved from: https://www.statista.com/statistics/184272/educational-attainment-of-college-diploma-or-higher-by-gender/

6. Stephens, S. (2016) Healthcare Gender Pay Gap Still Significant. HealtheCareers. Retrieved from: Gender Pay Gap in Healthcare

7. Bishu, S., Alkadry, M. (2017). A Systematic Review of the Gender Pay Gap and Factors that Predict It. Sage Journals. Retrieved from: SAGE Journals: Your gateway to world-class journal research

8. Goudreau, J. (2012). A New Obstacle for Professional Women: The Glass Escalator. Retrieved from: A New Obstacle For Professional Women: The Glass Escalator

9. Senior, R. (2018). Nurses Salary by Specialty Certification. Advanced Healthcare Network. Retrieved from: 218 Nurse Salary by Specialization | Nursing

10. Pew Research Center. (2015). Mothers, More than Fathers, Experience Career Interruptions. Retrieved from: >> Mothers, More than Fathers, Experience Career Interruptions

11. Leibbrandt, A. (2014). Do Women Avoid Salary Negotiations? Evidence from a Large Scale Natural Field Experiment. Retrieved from: http://gap.hks.harvard.edu/do-women-avoid-salary-negotiations-evidence-large-scale-natural-field-experiment

Workforce Development Columnist

Melissa is a Quality Assurance Nurse, professor, writer, and business owner. She enjoys empowering other nurses to find their passions and create a unique nursing career that fits their passions, desires, and gifts. She is owner of www. makingspace.company, a website dedicated to helping women find their creative passions through writing and co-owner of enursingresources.com, a start-up Nursing CE company that will offer online courses soon.

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Specializes in CCU, SICU, CVSICU, Precepting & Teaching.

I am married to a nurse. He has a diploma, I have a BSN plus a graduate degree in another discipline. I have five years more nursing experience, including five years of additional ICU experience. I have been published in nursing journals, have developed a program for teaching and certification for devices, have chaired unit level committees and participated in hospital wide committees. I have written policies and procedures, taught nursing classes and been a superuser on various devices. He has done none of those things. When we moved cross country and took new jobs in the same ICU of a major teaching hospital, he started at a higher hourly rate than me. Over the course of the last dozen years or so, cost of living raises based on a percentage of hourly rate have widened the gap to over $2/hour. I continue to write, teach, serve on committees, and all of those other things. He continues to put in his 12 hours and go home.

One more thing -- when we were hired, he was offered the higher rate, and didn't try to negotiate. I *did* try to negotiate and got offered $0.12 more per hour than the original offer.

Specializes in Workforce Development, Education, Advancement.

RubyVee - Thank you for sharing. What an excellent example of the gender pay gap in real-life. There are so many things we can learn from your situation. Thank you for sharing!


Specializes in Adult and pediatric emergency and critical care.

Our nurses have a fixed pay scales and are paid the same regardless of gender.

Specializes in Workforce Development, Education, Advancement.
PeakRN said:
Our nurses have a fixed pay scales and are paid the same regardless of gender.

PeakRN - This is a GREAT practice. How do the nurses feel about it? How are high performers rewarded?

Would love to hear more. ~Melissa

Specializes in Adult and pediatric emergency and critical care.

It's just how it is. We are a quaternary referral hosptial so our nurses get a lot of pride out of our care, and we pay more than the competing systems (on average) so there isn't a lot of motive to leave. The brutal truth is that if someone would rather potentially make more in another system at the cost of their coworkers then we are better off without them, they can be toxic somewhere else.

My prior system was more "merit" based but often raises and rewards were based more on favoritism than anything else, which brewed far more resentment among staff.

Specializes in Surgical, quality,management.
melissa.mills1117 said:
PeakRN - This is a GREAT practice. How do the nurses feel about it? How are high performers rewarded?

Would love to hear more. ~Melissa

This is how it works in UK, Ireland, Australia and New Zealand.

In VIC in Australia high performing clinical nurses can apply for a CNS grading. They still work clinical hours but also are expected to provide ward education, be involved in special interest groups, precept new grads and students.....

K+MgSO4 said:
This is how it works in UK, Ireland, Australia and New Zealand.

Ahh yes the civilized world. One day I hope to join it.

Before one worries about a pay gap, one might be concerned with an employability gap. Have never run across an instance where I learned of a male nurse having a problem getting a nursing job, whereas I've heard that about many female nurses, including self, over the years. I suppose the anecdotal observation could probably be validated.

I find this to be an interesting topic as I am a male nurse who is also a new grad. I went back to school for an ADN after working in inpatient mental health/Social Work for several years. My wife is also an RN with a BSN. My wife makes more than I do simply because she has more experience. We both work in the same health system currently but have been employed with several in our area. Of the five hospital systems we have worked for between the two of us there are no pay rate differences between men and women. There are formulas in place that account for years of experience as well as education level. Gender has never played a role in our salaries in other positions in healthcare either. I am glad to say we have never seen this type of inequality.

"Our survey results showed that men and women work in different areas of nursing. The top three specialties for male nurses include emergency departments, med-surg, and cardiac units. Women's top three units were med-surg, geriatrics/long-term care, and emergency departments. Could this be powering the salary gap?"

I am going to guess that it has quite a large role. I don't see that many men working in Dr offices either.

That along with an 8% difference in bachelor degrees probably has quite a significant impact on the 4% difference in pay.

I am curious- are there studies that allow for look at salaries within a specialty that allow for educational levels and years of experience?

I also suspect the negotiation plays a role in jobs that allow for negotiation. I just sat down and made (I think) a good case for why I deserve the salary I asked for. I know that in other areas, car sales for example, men have been shown to negotiate more effectively.