Last August, The Conversation published a very thoughtful article on the salary differences between NBA and WNBA players. They pointed out that the highest salary of a veteran player in the WNBA was $115,500. This pales in comparison to the salaries of their male counterparts. The lowest paid professional NBA player was $838,464. Players in the NBA with at least a year of experience are paid over $1.3 million.
This article helped many people, myself included, realize that the pay gap between male and female athletes was much higher than most of us believed. A number of steps need to be taken to address this concern. If we want to achieve true gender equality in sports, then our efforts need to be made at a young age.
Lessons about gender equality in sports need to be instilled in childhood
Many people have become too complacent about the lack of equality in sports. Even feminist commentators often excuse the imbalance by pointing out that men and women’s sports leagues have different levels of revenue, which explains salary differences. This is a valid argument – to a point. However, it is reckless to ignore other nuances to the debate. Here are three problems that get overlooked with it:
- There appears to be pay disparity, even after accounting for revenue differences in most sports.
- Revenue differences in professional sports might be at least partially explained by social archetypes.
- The revenue gap could be partially closed by attracting more talented female athletes, which could eventually close the salary gap.
I have heard some very good arguments about addressing the perennial problem of women being underrepresented in the technology industry. These arguments typically focus on the need to encourage girls to consider these careers at a young age. The same argument could apply to the pay gap between male and female athletes.
Here are some reasons that it is important to start addressing gender inequality in sports during childhood.
Encouraging more girls to go into professional sports
It seems that virtually all boys dream of being a professional athlete at some point in their lives. That dream is far less common among young girls.
It is possible that no amount of social conditioning could bring perfect gender parity in this regard. However, it is likely that different gender roles influenced their decision to some degree. Girls are probably less likely to believe that a career in sports could be in their future. They also might get discouraged knowing that their schools don’t offer the same funding for female sports programs.
If we do a better job teaching young girls that they deserve the same level of respect and recognition in sports, they might be a lot more likely to pursue this career path. This would result in a larger pool of female athletes, which would increase the quality of their teams. As a result, salaries of female athletes would rise as well. This is something that many summer soccer camps and other youth camps and academies are trying to teach their attendees.
Tackling the issue of institutional discrimination
Across all industries, the debate about the gender pay gap has become too binary. On one side, people often argued that women are paid 77 cents for every dollar that a man earns. At the other side of the spectrum, people point out that this figure is very misleading. They point out that the pay gap is closer to around three cents after their chosen profession, hours worked, years of experience and industry are taken into consideration. The second group argues that this proves institutional discrimination is virtually nonexistent.
While they make a valid point that the 77-cent figure exaggerates the extent of institutional discrimination, that does not mean that it is nonexistent. Also, it neglects to consider that institutional discrimination might influence some of the other variables that get factored for, such as their chosen profession. If women are denied employment based on the conscious or unconscious belief that they are unqualified for the job, then that variable might be overcorrected and thereby cause the real pay gap to be underestimated.
Another issue is that institutional discrimination might be more of a problem in certain industries. If we use the modified gender pay gap data, we might be complacent and overlook the fact that discrimination is more significant in fields like sports.
The fact is that direct, institutional discrimination is a real concern. Some data shows it might be even more of an issue in sports than any other industry.
Soccer is a classic example. A recent lawsuit addressed the point that the women’s soccer team actually generates more revenue than the men’s team. Yet, the athletes are not paid as much. This doesn’t comply with the excuse that women are only paid less due to budget constraints.
Teaching both boys and girls about the importance of gender equality in sports could eventually negate the influence of institutional discrimination. It could take a generation to resolve, but it is a very realistic goal.
This content is sponsored by Ryan Kh.