Male and Female Dentists: Is There Really a Difference?

It Turns Out That Gender Discrimination Is a Controversial Topic

“I think not even Jim Du Molin can survive the feminazi backlash from even asking this question!” wrote one male dentist in response to my controversial gender and dental school admissions survey.

He may be right… but I hope not. I’m doing my darnedest to handle this highly-charged topic in an objective fashion. Why cloud the issue? You all have enough passionate opinions already!

“I am a female dentist and the breadwinner in my family. I work more hours than the male counterparts in my practice,” wrote one respondent.

“We should not discriminate based solely on gender, but for every slot in a dental school that is occupied, we are going to need a reasonable output of care from that individual!” said a male dentist.

“What I observe in my area is women practicing fewer hours to commit more time to parenting. Given women’s tendency to practice part-time after becoming mothers, they are not adding to the alleged manpower shortage but helping improve access to care,” opined another male dentist.

But I’ll have more dentist comments for you next week. This week, in an effort to examine gender and dentistry in a neutral manner, I’ve reviewed the ADA’s research on the subject. It’s interesting stuff and I encourage you to check it out! But, in case you don’t, let me summarize the main points. (These numbers all come from the ADA study, which examined data from 1979 through 1999.)

Who works more hours?

  • Overall, men worked more hours.
  • Their 40-hour work weeks were 4 hours longer than the average woman’s 36 hours.
  • A 1995 study found women in private practice working about four hours per week less than men.
  • This was not the case from 1979-1985, when women dentists worked just as many hours as men.

Who works part time?

  • Women are more likely to work part-time.
  • A 1987 study found 12% of female dentists and 4% of male dentists working part-time (under 30 hours per week). The gender gap was 2.5 hours per week.
  • From 1986–1999, the study found more dentists of both genders working part time: 30% of female dentists and 14% of male dentists worked less than 32 hours per week.
  • A 1999 study reported that 34% of female dentists work part-time.

What factors make a dentist work less?

  • Having kids lead to women working less. Women with young children work about 7 hours per week less than other dentists, including men with kids and women without kids.
  • Older dentists work less. This is especially true of men. Dentists above age 55 work about five hours less per week.

What percentage of dentists are female?

  • In 1982, women comprised less than 3% of all dentists. By 1997, 13% of dentists were female. This will rise to 25% within the next 10 years.
  • In 2002, 40% of dental school students were female. (In 1982, it was only 24%.)
  • Accordingly, in the not-too-distant future, we can anticipate a profession that is roughly 60% male and 40% female.

Who works more than 42 hours a week?

  • Around 30% of men and 16% of women dentists.
  • Among younger dentists, it’s 32% of men and 20% of women.

Whew! Can you fit any more numbers in your head? Well, I hope so, because I tracked down some additional facts for you! These are courtesy of Dr. Lynn Carlisle.

  • Before 1970, almost all American dentists were male. (This was not the case in other parts of the world.)
  • Women’s liberation and birth control changed all that.
  • By 2003, 17% of practicing US dentists were female. Among new dentists, that number increases to 35%.
  • 97.7% of Utah’s dentists are male. (Wow!)
  • Between 1995 and 2005, the number of female dental school students increased by 32%, while the number of male students dropped by 2%.

It is also expected that the US will soon face a shortage of dentists. Why does Dr. Carlisle think this is the case?

  • Baby Boomer dentists will retire.
  • Dental school enrollment dropped in the 1980s.
  • Many female dentists choose to work part-time.
  • Dissatisfied dentists of both genders are leaving the profession.

I hope this provides some valuable context for this question. Stay tuned next week to find out what dentists think! In the meantime, feel free to post your comments below.

Mars and Venus Go to Dental School

Examining the Role of Gender in Dental School Admissions

Right now I’m running one of my most controversial surveys ever about the role of gender in dental school admissions. Here’s the background information:

  • The ADA reports that female dentists, particularly those with young children, work significantly fewer hours per week than their male counterparts.
  • Research indicates that male graduates donate back to their professional institutions at higher rates than female graduates.
  • With too many qualified female applicants, some educational institutions have had to adopt higher standards for women in order to maintain an even gender ratio.
  • Some suggest that favoring male applicants would enable dental schools to provide more care to the public and more quality education.

And here’s the survey question:

Do you think it is legitimate for dental schools to favor male applicants?
— No. Gender discrimination is unacceptable.
— Yes. It’s okay to give preference to those who will give back the most.

Please note that The Wealthy Dentist does not have an editorial stance on this topic. This question has been extremely contentious among our staff. One woman felt it was “yet more male myth-making,” a man gave a nod to “financial realities,” and we argued for days about how to word the question. But there’s no sidestepping controversy with a topic like this!

I’ve gotten so much interesting feedback already that I just had to share a few of these comments with you.

Oh! Are we finally talking about this?

  • “I’m a little surprised that this topic has come into the open view but, it is undeniable, it’s happening out there all the time. The profession is losing manpower hours at a time when there’s a call to serve more people.” (General dentist)

Why is an applicant’s gender the school’s business?

  • “Live with it people. Discrimination in any form (for a group or against a group) where the objective is a merit based achievement, is un-American.” (Male orthodontist)

Are you kidding me with this question?!? [One side]

  • “Perhaps the dental schools should have the female applicants sign a ‘no children’ contract… Are we in China?” (Female dentist)

Are you kidding me with this question?!? [The other side]

  • “Be realistic! The need for care has to be satisfied no matter what the uppity feminist ladies happen to believe.” (Male dentist)

We need more dentists serving the needy

  • “The real problem is the fact that no one, male or female, wants to work in rural, poor or underserved areas.” (Female dentist)

We should give men preference

  • “If men were given preference, there would be more dentists in total practice hours and therefore less need to employ unlicensed foreign dentists in public health clinics here in Massachusetts.” (Male dentist)

How is gender bias different from racial discrimination?

  • “It’s no different than a restaurant making, say, a black man wait for a table, while a white businessman gets better service, simply because one group may statistically give higher tips than the other. Is it okay for a restaurant to discriminate? Do such rules not apply to dental schools?” (Male dentist)

It’s a matter of who provides the most care to the public

  • “Women working significantly fewer hours (or not at all) seems to be reality. At least half of the all the female dentists that I have known in my 32 years of dentistry fit into that mold.” (Male dentist)
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