News at the University of New Brunswick

UNB researchers examine gender pay gaps among health care workers before and after the pandemic

Author: UNB Newsroom

Posted on Sep 21, 2020

Category: UNB Fredericton , myUNB

Adrienne Gulliver, master's student

A group of researchers at the University of New Brunswick in Fredericton are undertaking a research project that will examine trends in gender-related wage gaps among health care workers before and after the COVID-19 outbreak.

Many governments provided temporary “pandemic pay” to frontline health care workers fighting COVID-19. What tended to receive less policy attention was the fact that women form the majority in many health professions, and their lower base pay in relation to the health and safety risks of their jobs stems from societal norms and discrimination surrounding “women’s work.” The research is expected to inform decisions for longer-term planning and funding to optimize gender equity within these professions.

The research team from UNB includes Dr. Neeru Gupta, the principal investigator for the project and associate professor of sociology, Sarah Balcom, assistant professor in the faculty of nursing, and Ismael Foroughi, postdoctoral fellow in the department of sociology. Ivy Bourgeault, professor at the University of Ottawa and lead of the Canadian Health Workforce Network, is also a member of the team. The project has received funding from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council.

According to the researchers, data comparing health care worker earnings by sex are not often published in Canada, even for higher-paying medical jobs. Research from other countries indicates that female physicians typically earn 13 to 37 per cent less than their male counterparts and female nurses earn approximately 12 per cent less than males. These pay gaps are not explained by traditional labour market measures, such as education or hours worked.

Their project, which uses a gender-based analysis approach and leverages existing national data sets, will build knowledge on gender‐related wage gaps among medical, nursing and allied health professionals. The goal of their study is to better understand whether the Canadian healthcare system may be reproducing or even exacerbating social inequalities.

“There is growing recognition – both nationally and internationally – that work is not a gender‐equal opportunity for women and men healthcare practitioners,” says Dr. Gupta. “Unfortunately, there is little known about women's contributions to the health of societies, and even less about true gender equity in the healthcare professions.”

Adrienne Gulliver, who is pursuing a master’s degree in the applied health services research (MAHSR) program at the UNB Fredericton, has been hired as a research assistant for this project. Gulliver’s work on this project will form the basis of her thesis.

Gulliver is also a registered holistic nutritional consultant (RHN) who is passionate about health and wellness in her community. Her training includes a focus in women’s health, pediatric nutrition, eating disorders and exercise physiology. Additionally, Gulliver gained experience in the field of psychological research while working as a research assistant throughout her undergraduate degree at St. Francis Xavier University.

“As a new master’s student, I am privileged to be working alongside such an incredible team that is dedicated to combating social inequality by shining a light on the gender pay gaps that exist in the health workforce,” says Gulliver. “I was drawn to this project because I am confident that it will provide a greater understanding for the public on the challenges that women face in the healthcare field, with the hopes that it will lead to evidence-based change on a local, regional and national level.

“I chose to pursue my master’s at UNB because as a New Brunswicker, I want the research I conduct to impact and benefit my home province and community,” she adds.

As the pandemic continues, and our health-care system faces ever-increasing challenges, UNB researchers continue to perform world-class research with the goal of promoting gender equality, one step at a time.

Media contact: Angie Deveau

Photo credit: Kyle Gulliver