The Wage Gap in Pro Sports

Updated August 5, 2020 | Infoplease Staff

Will equal pay for women arrive in the sports world?

by John Gettings
AP/Wide World Photos

With solid television deals, big-time sponsors, and marketable players like two-time league MVP Cynthia Cooper, the WNBA could become the most successful women's team sports' league ever.

What's the hold-up here?

  • President John F. Kennedy signed the Equal Pay Act in 1963. Yet 35 years later statistics show America's working woman still only earns 74 cents for every dollar that her male coworker earns.
  • In 1972 Title IX legislation was passed, requiring schools which receive federal money to provide equal opportunity and funding to male and female sports programs. However, a 1997 study of almost 800 Division 1-A schools revealed that female athletes received almost $143 million less scholarship money than male athletes during the 1995-96 year.
  • Ladies Professional Golf Association 1998 Player of the Year Annika Sorenstam won four tournaments and a then-record $1,092,748 in 1998. If she had been on the men's PGA tour, that would have put her in 24th place for earnings.

America's struggle to close its gender wage gap has been mirrored by the efforts of amateur and professional sports organizations. Today, women's team sports at the college level and their coaches (who happen to earn 63 cents for every dollar earned by head coaches of men's teams) are settling for substantially smaller budgets than men's team sports.

And women's professional sports, which don't even have a Title IX equivalent to fall back on for support, are lagging well behind men's sports in prize money, sponsorship commitments, and endorsements.

But the effects of the record number of girls and women now playing sports will be felt soon. The success of women's team sports such as ice hockey at the 1998 Olympic Games and soccer at the 1999 Women's World Cup has redirected athletic shoe marketing campaigns and sparked more corporate interest in the future of women's sports.

As a result, high-profile individual female sports like tennis, golf, figure skating, gymnastics, and track and field could see the wage gap shrink, while long-term financial success for new team sports' leagues like the Women's National Basketball Association could make equality a reality.

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