Since 1963, “equal pay for equal work” has been the law of the land when it comes to compensating men and women in the U.S.
If only it were so simple.
According to a lawsuit filed on March 8 by the U.S. women’s national soccer team, these female athletes are being paid less than the men’s team, in some cases earning just 38 percent of pay per game. This, despite the fact that in recent years the women’s team has generated more profits and revenue for the U.S. Soccer Federation, earned larger viewing audiences, and played more games than the men’s team. The women have also won three World Cup titles and four Olympic gold medals. Their lawsuit against the USSF comes just three months before they defend their World Cup title at the 2019 tournament in France.
Many won’t find these claims surprising. Women athletes are notoriously underpaid when compared with their male counterparts, and the U.S. women’s national soccer team represents just one sport where this dynamic plays out. In the WNBA, player salaries start at $50,000, while median salaries are $71,635. Meanwhile, NBA players earn a minimum salary of $582,180. Out in the wider U.S. labor market, women’s median weekly earnings in 2018 were 81.1 cents for every dollar earned by a man. (The gap is bigger for women of color: Compared with white men’s median weekly earnings in 2018, Hispanic women earned just 61.6 percent and black women earned just 65.3 percent.) And it’s getting worse. According to data analysis from the Institute for Women’s Policy Research, the gender wage gap actually widened last year. And some researchers believe the wage gap could be much bigger than what’s reported now.
Experts tend to point to a familiar set of reasons to explain wage gaps. Women lose out on hours in a day and years of experience because of higher demands to care for children or relatives. Then there’s the fact that becoming a father actually increases earnings in most cases, while becoming a mother does the opposite. When it comes to sports, where laborers are almost always divided by gender, male athletes routinely sign contracts for millions of dollars, while their female counterparts often need to ask for a living wage.
According to the lawsuit, from 2013 through 2016, women’s national-team players could earn a maximum of $4,950 per “friendly,” or non-tournament, game that they won, while men’s national-team players earned an average of $13,166 for the same thing. And though a new collective-bargaining agreement was reached in 2017 that reportedly bumped up the women’s salaries (the exact numbers are not public), the pay from the USSF to its male and female athletes is still not equal.