LYON, FRANCE - JULY 07: (EDITORS NOTE: Image has been digitally enhanced.) Megan Rapinoe of the USA lifts the FIFA Women's World Cup Trophy following her team's victory in the 2019 FIFA Women's World Cup France Final match between The United States of America and The Netherlands at Stade de Lyon on July 07, 2019 in Lyon, France. (Photo by Alex Grimm/Getty Images)
Andy Scholes walks through US Soccer's landmark equal pay deal
01:38 - Source: CNN

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We’ve written multiple recent newsletters about the possible impending demise of Roe v. Wade, the 1973 Supreme Court decision that gave American women the right to obtain an abortion.

Today there’s reason to focus on another topic related to gender and with ties to a major 1970s milestone.

The big news in gender equality is that the US Soccer Federation announced a new 50-50 split in the way it pays men and women competing for the US national soccer teams. The deal announced on Wednesday means both sides will receive the same pay and prize money, including for participating at World Cups.

The agreement is the result of years of lawsuits and lobbying by players for the spectacular US Women’s National Team.

The idea of the women’s side achieving parity with the fair-to-middling (by international soccer standards) US Men’s National Team is something to celebrate.

“This is a truly historic moment,” said US Soccer President Cindy Parlow Cone in a statement on Wednesday, according to CNN’s report. “These agreements have changed the game forever here in the United States and have the potential to change the game around the world.”

It’s not just about money, but also should improve the training and playing environment for American women. Supporters hope the agreement will be a worldwide model.

50 years of Title IX

Another worldwide model for gender equality is Title IX, the civil rights law signed in June 1972, less than a year before the Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade decision. It prohibits discrimination based on sex in education programs or activities that receive federal money, including sports.

Title IX has also been the subject of numerous lawsuits and controversies, most recently around how transgender college athletes should be included in competition.

It’s hard not to see the US Women’s National Team’s success as a beneficiary of Title IX and the outsize growth of women’s sports in the US compared with other countries.

While Wednesday’s agreement is another step toward equality, there’s clearly still a long way to go, as I learned when I wrote about Title IX back in 2019 after the US Women’s National Team won their second consecutive World Cup.

Women in sports still make a LOT less money

Despite the revenue-sharing agreement for US soccer, the economics of women’s professional sports are very different than they are for American men.

Brittney Griner is the American basketball player being wrongfully held in Russia.

A seven-time Women’s National Basketball Association All-Star, she started playing in Russia in 2015 during the league’s offseason – in search of a larger paycheck than the low six-figure salaries the WNBA offers top players.

The equivalent to Griner in the NBA might be Kyrie Irving, a seven-time All-Star and US national team player who makes tens of millions of dollars. While she needed to spend part of the year playing in Russia to make money, he didn’t play home games this season because he refused to get a Covid-19 vaccine.

A $10,000 American pay gap

For American women more generally, the pay gap between men and women is smaller than it used to be, but it is still annoyingly large.

The national median earnings for an American man are $53,544, according to the Census Bureau. Women make about $10,000 less in a year, at $43,394, although the gap varies across the country.

Pay gaps across the US

Women and men are paid on essentially equal footing in Puerto Rico, although the wages for both men and women there are half the median elsewhere in the country.

There is a discrepancy in every US state – a $21,000-plus gap in Wyoming (the highest) and a gap below $5,000 in Vermont (the lowest), according to the Census data, which is based on surveys and reflects information from 2019.

Why does the pay gap exist?

Here’s what the Census Bureau statistician Megan Wisniewski wrote in March: “There are a multitude of factors that may contribute to earnings differences between women and men: age, number of hours worked, presence of children, and education. The types of jobs women and men hold, and the earnings difference among these occupations also contribute to gaps in overall earnings.”

Also in March, on Equal Pay Day, CNN asked a number of successful women leaders in business and politics to explain the pay gap and what could be done about it. The reasons noted in several of the responses were that women shoulder more responsibility in American homes, it’s often hard to uncover the pay gap, and it’s difficult for women to pursue both a family and a career.

Read all the responses here.

Their suggestions ranged from new laws to require parity to more help paying for child care and more transparency about what men and women are making.

More American women now graduate from college than men

So much has changed for American women since the ’70s, and not just in college sports.

In 1970, before Title IX, 12% of women ages 25 to 34 received a bachelor’s degree, compared with 20% of US men. In 2021, it was nearly half of women, 46%, who earned a bachelor’s degree, compared with a smaller proportion of men, 36%, according to the Pew Research Center.

But the pay gap persists

The overall pay gap, which changes depending on education and career, averages to American women making 83 cents for every dollar American men make, per 2020 data.

Back in the early ’70s, before Roe v. Wade and Title IX, the gap was closer to 61 cents for every dollar.

Progress has been slow and incomplete.