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Male doctors earn more than their female counterparts, even if they have similar hours, titles and specialties, according to new American research.

Researchers at the University of Michigan Health System and Duke University conducted an analysis that found male doctors earn about $12,000 more a year than female physicians. The findings were published Wednesday in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

"The gender pay disparity we found in this highly talented and select group of physicians was sobering," Reshma Jagsi, associate professor of radiation oncology at the University of Michigan Medical School and lead author of the study said in a press release.

The researchers surveyed about 800 doctors who had received competitive grants early in their careers from the U.S. National Institutes of Health, allowing researchers to examine a pool of similarly motivated and talented physicians.

The results showed that, on average, male doctors earned about $200,400 a year, while female physicians earned about $167,600. Some of the differences are explained by differences in medical specialty, with men going into fields that traditionally pay more. For instance, studies show men are more likely to choose cardiology, which typically pays high amounts, while women are more likely to opt for the less-lucrative pediatrics. When those differences were factored in, the overall pay gap between men and women was about $12,000, the researchers said.

Over a 30-year career, that difference would add up to about $360,000.

Why the difference?

The Associated Press spoke to two women in the medical field who believe a big factor is the fact men are simply better at self-promotion and pushing for more money.

"Male faculty members are willing to negotiate more aggressively. It may be social and cultural. It seems to be fairly deep-rooted," JoAnn Manson, chief of preventive medicine at Brigham and Women's Hospital, told the Associated Press.

Of course, the issue isn't just limited to the medical profession. Pay inequality has been the subject of debate for years, and could become an issue in the 2012 U.S. presidential election. One of the biggest reasons researchers point to in the gender pay-inequality gap is the fact many women interrupt their careers to have children.

Is there any solution to the persistent problem of pay inequality between men and women?