Pharmacy: The Most Egalitarian Profession

Daniel Weiss, Senior Editor
Published Online: Tuesday, October 2, 2012
The decline of independent pharmacies and rise of retail chains have been key factors in making pharmacy unusually egalitarian in terms of pay and opportunity for women, argue a pair of Harvard economists.

A pair of Harvard economists has determined that, over the past few decades, pharmacy has become an extremely female-friendly profession in which women earn nearly as much as men even if they cut back on hours to raise children. In addition, the disparity in pay between low-earning pharmacists and high-earning pharmacists is relatively slight and, even as pharmacy has become a female-majority profession, average pay for pharmacists has increased relative to almost all other professions. Driving these changes, the economists argue, is the wholesale shift in pharmacy jobs from independent pharmacies to retail chains and hospitals.
 
These perhaps surprising findings are detailed in a National Bureau of Economic Research working paper by Claudia Goldin, PhD, and Lawrence F. Katz, PhD, that was issued in September 2012. Their research is based on extensive Pharmacist Workforce Surveys of 5300 Midwestern pharmacists carried out in 2000, 2004, and 2009 as well as samples from the American Community Surveys and the Current Population Surveys.
 
The shift in recent decades in pharmacy jobs from independent pharmacies to hospitals and retail chains has been striking. Between 1966 and 2009, the portion of pharmacists working in retail settings declined from 83% to 59% and the portion working in hospitals increased from 8% to 30%. From the late 1950s to recent years, the portion of pharmacists who either owned or were employed by independent pharmacies fell from 75% to 14%. And, between 1966 and 2010, the portion of pharmacists who were self-employed declined from 40% to less than 5%.
 
At the same time, the portion of pharmacists who are women has increased—from 8% in 1960 to 55% today. Unlike other “feminized” professions, pharmacy incomes have increased as women have come to fill a majority of positions. Between 1999 and 2010, pharmacist earnings rose relative 41 of 42 health care professions listed in the Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupational Employment Statistics (OES).
 
Pharmacy pay is also unusually evenly distributed. According to the May 2011 OES, pharmacists have the smallest gap in pay between those at the upper and lower ends of wage distribution of any occupation with average earnings greater than $60,000 and the smallest gap among all health care professions. In addition, between 1970 and 2010, the pay ratio of female to male pharmacists increased from 0.66 to 0.92, a gender earnings gap smaller than for almost any other high-wage profession.
 
Dr. Goldin and Dr. Katz explain that the shift from independent pharmacies to chain retail outlets and hospitals is the key driver of this shift toward egalitarian and gender-neutral pay. In the corporate and hospital settings where the majority of pharmacists now work, employees can more easily substitute for each other, making part-time work less disruptive. As a result, women who choose to work part-time in order to care for their families are able to do so without reducing their hourly pay rate. Unlike most professions, in which women are more likely than men to stop working when they get married or have children, active female pharmacists are just as likely as male pharmacists to get married and have approximately the same number of children.
 
In general, pharmacists who work long hours do not earn more on an hourly basis than those who work shorter hours. Male pharmacists do tend to earn more per year than female pharmacists, but this is largely due to the fact that men work more hours than women do. Moreover, unlike their peers in many other professions, female pharmacists who work shorter hours early in their career due to parenthood do not tend to pay a penalty in terms of stalled hourly earnings later in their career. However, pharmacist earnings do not tend to rise much with age or experience. It is not clear whether this is due to the fact that there is little on-the-job training in pharmacy or to the fact that in the 1990s and 2000s, demand for pharmacists outpaced supply, leading to inflated salaries for new workers.
 
“In sum,” Dr. Goldin and Dr. Katz conclude, “the position of pharmacist is probably the most egalitarian of all professions in the US today.”

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