News Release

Pay Gap for Scientists with Disabilities

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A new study finds that scientists and engineers with PhDs who have long-term disabilities earn, on average, $10,580 less per year than their non-disabled peers. The pay gap is even larger in academia: disabled people who hold STEM positions in academia earn $14,360 less, on average, than their non-disabled peers. Disabled academics were also underrepresented in senior faculty positions. The study analyzed survey data from more than 704,000 people.

BONNIELIN SWENOR; bswenor@jhmi.edu, @BonnieSwenorPhD
    Swenor is the director of the Johns Hopkins Disability Health Research Center. 

Swenor told the Institute for Public Accuracy: “Data already exist showing inequities in pay for other underrepresented groups in STEM, and that has been an important set of evidence. We wanted to understand that for people with disabilities. We see profound pay gaps––and larger gaps in academia. We [also] found that people with disabilities from intersecting, underrepresented identity groups in STEM were even less likely to be in leadership roles in academia. That underscores the layers of inequities that people who are multiply marginalized face in STEM and in academic spaces. At the Center, when we’re talking about inequities, we always have to look through the lens of intersectionality, because nothing happens in a vacuum. These barriers and biases compound.”

The pay gap “is striking in STEM because our promotion, which is linked to our salary, is judged by a jury of our peers. We’re promoted based on publications and grants––and those are all biased systems and structures, with baked-in ableism that hasn’t been addressed. They add up to people being held back in promotion and in pay gaps.”

The study also considers when in their lives people experienced disability (early in life versus later on), Swenor noted. For people who develop a disability later in life and may already have an established career, they may still be retiring early. “For [scientists who have] disabilities early in life, depending on when it starts, that could mean barriers in K-12 education, higher ed… All of that compounds to remove opportunities: more places to squeeze people out.

“Oftentimes, when we talk about inequities in STEM and higher ed, this is not a demographic group that is often considered, and it needs to be. I hope that leaders in research institutions and in higher ed start paying attention and start collecting data to understand if they have inequities in their own systems and structures [that they need to] address. I get calls all the time from scientists, researchers, trainees with disabilities about these issues.” Inequities for people with disabilities arise in particular at the negotiation stage, when people may need to disclose their disability to receive accommodations. “There are other gaps that people don’t think about: tradeoffs that people make to take jobs and positions that are accessible or near where they have healthcare providers. These are complicated discussions.”