Statistics Have Biases Too

Today I noticed that Glassdoor recently published their annual top-earners report. Immediately, headlines were all over the place describing that physicians are once again the highest-paid professionals in the United States. However, I think that the claim is slightly misleading, especially given the exponential increase in stratification in today’s society. While physicians are still paid well, there are disparities that hide in the data and underlie important social aspects that touch the lives of all Americans.

The first misconception arises from how people identify their careers. Almost every doctor in every specialty identifies as a “physician.” A cardiothoracic surgeon, in these surveys would likely qualify as a physician. If you were to ask them in person, however, they would likely first say “surgeon.” Professionals in other fields often don’t have the same level of unity in titles. IT professionals, for example, have multiple titles for essentially the same job: software engineer, process development engineer, development manager, etc. While there are certainly some nuances between these, they are no different than the nuances between, say, a neurologist and a neurosurgeon.

Professionals of other fields are often much higher paid than physicians, yet because there is no unifying title that dominates, the statistics fall short of the truth simply due to our categorical nature. As such I think it’s worth surfacing these issues in discussions about top-earners. At least, then we’re inching closer to the truth.

Dossier

“The Highest Paying Jobs in 2019,” by Glassdoor, September 17, 2019. https://www.glassdoor.com/research/jobs-companies-2019/ . This is an annually compiled list of the 25 highest paying jobs and companies, with some additional insight about their respective industries.