When Women Fail, They Pay a Much Bigger Price Than Men

Heather Sarsons

For indispensable reporting on the coronavirus crisis, the election, and more, subscribe to the Mother Jones Daily newsletter.

Via Harold Pollack, here’s a new study that will probably not surprise you—but should incense you. Heather Sarsons, a graduate student at Harvard, examined Medicare data to determine how doctors referred patients to specialists for surgery. In particular, did they treat male and female surgeons differently?

The answer is pretty simple: oh my, yes. Sarsons used matched panels of surgeons who were equally qualified and had similar records of surgical outcomes. But primary care doctors didn’t treat them the same. If a patient unexpectedly died after surgery, most doctors continued referring patients to male surgeons at about the same rate. But referrals to female surgeons plummeted:

In the case of male surgeons, an unexpected death is apparently treated as just something that happens sometimes. In the case of female surgeons, it’s taken as a sign of poor surgical skill. And it’s not just the surgeon herself who suffers. So do all her colleagues:

Again, referrals to male surgeons stay about the same. But if a female surgeon suffers an unexpected death, referrals to all female surgeons plummet. And just to make an obvious point clear, this has real-world implications for how much money they make:

What’s happening here is hardly uncommon. Minorities of all kinds are often treated as representatives of their entire group. If one fails, it reflects on all of them. But the same isn’t true of members of majority groups. There, a failure is usually taken as a chance occurrence. Not only doesn’t it reflect on their entire group, it often doesn’t even reflect on them personally.

If you’re white or male, you’d never see this. Even if you’re not, it might not be noticeable. If you experience a failure and subsequently get fewer referrals from a doctor, you might shrug and consider that a normal response, never knowing that your male colleagues aren’t treated the same way. Literally everyone might be totally unaware this is happening. It’s only when you dig deeply into the dusty, boring data that you discover this kind of rampant systemic privilege.

SIX TRUTHS

Reclaiming power from those who abuse it often starts with telling the truth. And in "This Is How Authoritarians Get Defeated," MoJo's Monika Bauerlein unpacks six truths to remember during the homestretch of an election where democracy, truth, and decency are on the line.

Truth #1: The chaos is the point.

Truth #2: Team Reality is bigger than it seems.

Truth #3: Facebook owns this.

Truth #4: When we go to work, we're in the fight.

Truth #5: It's about minority rule.

Truth #6: The only thing that can save us is…us.

Please take a moment to see how all these truths add up, because what happens in the weeks and months ahead will reverberate for at least a generation and we better be prepared.

And if you think journalism like Mother Jones'—that calls it like it is, that will never acquiesce to power, that looks where others don't—can help guide us through this historic, high-stakes moment, and you're able to right now, please help us reach our $350,000 goal by October 31 with a donation today. It's all hands on deck for democracy.

payment methods

SIX TRUTHS

Reclaiming power from those who abuse it often starts with telling the truth. And in "This Is How Authoritarians Get Defeated," MoJo's Monika Bauerlein unpacks six truths to remember during the homestretch of an election where democracy, truth, and decency are on the line.

Truth #1: The chaos is the point.

Truth #2: Team Reality is bigger than it seems.

Truth #3: Facebook owns this.

Truth #4: When we go to work, we're in the fight.

Truth #5: It's about minority rule.

Truth #6: The only thing that can save us is…us.

Please take a moment to see how all these truths add up, because what happens in the weeks and months ahead will reverberate for at least a generation and we better be prepared.

And if you think journalism like Mother Jones'—that calls it like it is, that will never acquiesce to power, that looks where others don't—can help guide us through this historic, high-stakes moment, and you're able to right now, please help us reach our $350,000 goal by October 31 with a donation today. It's all hands on deck for democracy.

payment methods

We Recommend

Latest

Sign up for our free newsletter

Subscribe to the Mother Jones Daily to have our top stories delivered directly to your inbox.

Get our award-winning magazine

Save big on a full year of investigations, ideas, and insights.

Subscribe

Support our journalism

Help Mother Jones' reporters dig deep with a tax-deductible donation.

Donate