“Medicine has become something of a stealth family-friendly profession”

Claire Cain Miller, who writes some great stuff about work and family for the New York Times, has a piece about mothers and medical practice:

Medicine has become something of a stealth family-friendly profession, at a time when other professions are growing more greedy about employees’ time. Jobs increasingly require long, inflexible hours, and pay disproportionately more to people who work them. But if one parent is on call at work, someone else has to be on call at home. For most couples, that’s the woman — which is why educated women are being pushed out of work or into lower-paying jobs.

But medicine has changed in ways that offer doctors and other health care workers the option of more control over their hours, depending on the specialty and job they choose, while still practicing at the top of their training and being paid proportionately….

Female doctors are likelier than women with law degrees, business degrees or doctorates to have children. They’re also much less likely to stop working when they do.

Flexible, predictable hours are the key — across occupations — to shrinking gender gaps, according to the body of research by Claudia Goldin, an economist at Harvard. As American employers struggle to adapt to the realities of modern family life and as younger generations of workers demand more balance, medicine offers a road map.

In the case of medicine, the rise of larger practices and hospitals as the main employers of doctors means that hours have become more predictable, there’s less time on call when you’re not at work, and “there are more people who can serve as substitutes and divide night and weekend work.”

Of course, there are still specialties where the hours remain crazy, and those tend to attract more men. Further, women work fewer hours than men on average, though that’s a difference between 50-hour weeks and 60-hour weeks.

As UCLA economist Melanie Wasserman says, “If employers are serious about improving gender diversity in their work force, they might want to think seriously about how they are structuring their jobs.”

Which raises the question: “if doctors have figured out how to work predictable hours and substitute for one another — for things like delivering babies, diagnosing diseases or saving lives — couldn’t other occupations, too?”

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