What explains the pay gap in women's soccer?
The U.S. Soccer Federation says "market realities" explain the pay gap. Others say it's institutionalized sexism.
Naomi Baker - FIFA / Contributor
- The U.S. women's soccer team recently won its fourth World Cup title.
- The U.S. women's team has been far more successful than the men's team in recent years, yet men still receive higher pay.
- All 28 players on the U.S. women's team have filed a lawsuit against the U.S. Soccer Federation over claims of unequal pay.
The U.S. women's soccer team won its fourth World Cup title on Sunday with a 2-0 victory over the Netherlands. Shortly after, the crowd started chanting "equal pay!" — referencing the claim that the United States Soccer Federation (aka U.S. Soccer) unjustly pays female players less than male players. It's been a long-standing point of contention between female players and U.S. Soccer — which is the body that governs America's national soccer teams — though it was only in March that all 28 female players on the U.S. team decided to sue U.S. Soccer.
The class-action lawsuit claimed that "female players have been consistently paid less money than their male counterparts. This is true even though their performance has been superior to that of the male players – with the female players, in contrast to male players, becoming world champions." The complaint added that U.S. Soccer also failed to provide female players with equal working conditions, promotion and support.
In a May court filing, U.S. Soccer argued that the pay gap is "based on differences in aggregate revenue generated by the different teams and/or any other factor other than sex." Last week, more than 50 members of Congress signed an open letter to U.S. Soccer President Carlos Cordeiro in support of the women's team. Some lawmakers also expressed support on Twitter. Meanwhile, the women's team's case is heading to mediation.
So, what explains the gender pay gap? How is it fair that the more-successful women's team earns less than the men's team? Does women's soccer simply generate less revenue? Is institutionalized sexism to blame?
There's no immediately clear answer, but you can get some insight by looking at the differences between the men's and women's teams in terms of revenue generation, collective-bargaining agreements and awards from FIFA.
U.S. men's teams have historically generated more revenue than women's teams. But that's beginning to change — at least in terms of gate revenues, which consist mainly of ticket sales. As The Wall Street Journal notes in a recent article:
"From 2016 to 2018, women's games generated about $50.8 million in revenue compared with $49.9 million for the men, according to U.S. soccer's audited financial statements. In 2016, the year after the World Cup, the women generated $1.9 million more than the men."
But only about one-quarter of U.S. Soccer's total operating revenue can be attributed to gate revenues, according to the federation's financial documents. The other revenues come mainly from broadcasting and sponsorships, and it's difficult to parse out which teams contribute more to these revenues because U.S. Soccer sells sponsorships and broadcasting rights as a bundled package.
Still, there's reason to think that the recent success and popularity of the women's team is boosting revenues: Nike chief executive Mark Parker said that the U.S. women's team home jersey "is now the number one soccer jersey, men's or women's, ever sold on Nike.com in one season," according to The Washington Post.
The U.S. men's and women's teams have different collective-bargaining agreements with U.S. Soccer. The most noticeable difference lies in bonus structure and amounts. As a recent piece from The Guardian notes, male players stand to earn more money in bonuses as they progress through a World Cup. But that's just the World Cup: The men's and women's teams earn bonuses (of different kinds and amounts) in other games and tournaments, under a variety of differing conditions. Overall, men earn more in bonuses. But a recent update to the women's team deal has narrowed the bonus gap, and also made it so that female players earn a base salary (male players only earn money through bonuses).
In short, comparing earnings between male and female players is complicated, and a 1:1 comparison is impossible. For 2019, it looks like the women's team will earn more than the men's team — but only because of their extraordinary success, and the men's team's relative failure.
Understanding how the World Cup factors into the soccer pay gap requires some knowledge of the relationship between FIFA and U.S. Soccer.
FIFA runs the World Cup. It determines how much prize money the winning nation's team receives. After that team wins the World Cup, FIFA awards a predetermined purse of prize money to that nation's soccer federation — but those purses vary drastically by gender. As The Washington Post notes:
"Total prize money for the Women's World Cup in 2019 is $30 million — the champions will walk away with about $4 million. For contrast, in the 2018 Men's World Cup, the champions won $38 million from a total pool of about $400 million. In other words, the champions from the men's world cup were awarded more than the total prize money in the women's tournament. So there's no question that there's a huge gap in earning potential here."
Why such a discrepancy? The men's World Cup currently generates more money, by far. For context, FIFA earned upwards of $6 billion from the 2018 men's World Cup. Meanwhile, the women's 2019 World Cup is estimated to earn FIFA about $131 million.
So, even though the U.S. women's team is more successful than the men's team, the numbers suggest that men's soccer is currently a more valuable product — especially on the international stage. That means the male players deserve to earn more, right? Needless to say, not everyone agrees.
A recent op-ed from The New York Times editorial board argues that revenue is "the wrong measuring stick" in this debate.
"United States Soccer is a nonprofit, exempted from taxation because it serves a social purpose: "To make soccer, in all its forms, a pre-eminent sport in the United States," the Times editorial board wrote. "It should be obvious to the people who run the federation that the women's team is fulfilling that mission at least as well as the men's team."
The piece also notes that it's U.S. Soccer — not FIFA — that ultimately gives award money to players, and therefore the federation could use its discretion to pay all players equally. In short, this argument acknowledges that men's soccer brings in more money overall, but says that's not the most important measure by which this debate should be judged.
(It's worth noting the obvious: This current debate about women's soccer is embedded within a broader culture war over gender equality and the gender pay gap, and it's likely that many are treating this story as a proxy battle in that broader war.)
Another point that the Times and others have made in recent days goes something like: Sure, men's soccer earns more money, but that's partly because federations aren't investing enough money into women's soccer. If they did, women's soccer would be more popular and generate more money.
For now, the women's team and U.S. soccer are heading into mediation. The federation maintains that "market realities" are responsible for the pay gap in American soccer. But that could soon change if the women's team can strike a deal with U.S. Soccer on a revenue-sharing model.
"Under this model, player compensation would increase in years in which the USSF derived more revenue from WNT activities and player compensation would be less if revenue from those activities decreased," the 28 U.S. female players wrote in their recent court complaint. "This showed the players' willingness to share in the risk and reward of the economic success of the WNT."
U.S. Soccer "categorically rejected" this model. But the U.S. National Soccer Team Players Association — which is the players union for the United States men's national soccer team — has expressed support for it.
"The United States National Soccer Team Players Association fully supports the efforts of the US Women's National Team Players to achieve equal pay," reads the statement. "Specifically, we are committed to the concept of a revenue-sharing model to address the US Soccer Federation's 'market realities' and find a way towards fair compensation."
To create wiser adults, add empathy to the school curriculum.
- Stories are at the heart of learning, writes Cleary Vaughan-Lee, Executive Director for the Global Oneness Project. They have always challenged us to think beyond ourselves, expanding our experience and revealing deep truths.
- Vaughan-Lee explains 6 ways that storytelling can foster empathy and deliver powerful learning experiences.
- Global Oneness Project is a free library of stories—containing short documentaries, photo essays, and essays—that each contain a companion lesson plan and learning activities for students so they can expand their experience of the world.
Philosophers like to present their works as if everything before it was wrong. Sometimes, they even say they have ended the need for more philosophy. So, what happens when somebody realizes they were mistaken?
Sometimes philosophers are wrong and admitting that you could be wrong is a big part of being a real philosopher. While most philosophers make minor adjustments to their arguments to correct for mistakes, others make large shifts in their thinking. Here, we have four philosophers who went back on what they said earlier in often radical ways.
Researchers from Japan add a new wrinkle to a popular theory and set the stage for the formation of monstrous black holes.
- A new theory takes the direct-collapse theory explaining the creation of supermassive black holes around which galaxies turn ones step further.
- The advance is made possible by a super-powerful computer, ATERUI II.
- The new theory is the first that accounts for the likely assortment of heavy elements in early-universe gas clouds.
It seems that pretty much every galaxy we see is spinning around a supermassive black hole. When we say "supermassive," we mean BIG: Each is about 100,000 to tens of billions times the mass of our Sun. Serving as the loci around which our galaxies twirl, they're clearly important to maintaining the universal structures we see. It would be nice to know how they form. We have a pretty good idea how normally-huge-but-not-massive black holes form, but as for the supermassive larger versions, not so much. It's a supermassive missing piece of the universe puzzle.
Now, in research published in Monthly Notices of the Astronomical Society, astrophysicists at Tohoku University in Japan reveal that they may have solved the riddle, supported by new computer simulations that show how supermassive black holes come to be.
The direct collapse theories
Glowing gas and dark dust within the Large Magellanic Cloud
Image source: ESA/Hubble and NASA
The favored theory about the birth of supermassive black holes up to now has been the "direct-collapse" theory. The theory proposes a solution to a cosmic riddle: Supermassive black holes seem to have been born a mere 690 million years after the Big Bang, not nearly long enough for the standard normal black hole genesis scenario to have played out, and on such a large scale. There are two versions of the direct-collapse theory.
One version proposes that if enough gas comes together in a supermassive gravitationally bound cloud, it can eventually collapse into a black hole, which, thanks the cosmic background-radiation-free nature of the very early universe, could then quickly pull in enough matter to go supermassive in a relatively short period of time.
According to astrophysicist Shantanu Basu of Western University in London, Ontario, this would only have been possible in the first 800 million years or so of the universe. "The black holes are formed over a duration of only about 150 million years and grow rapidly during this time," Basu told Live Science in the summer of 2019. "The ones that form in the early part of the 150-million-year time window can increase their mass by a factor of 10 thousand." Basu was lead author of research published last summer in Astrophysical Journal Letters that presented computer models showing this version of direct-collapse is possible.
Another version of the theory suggests that the giant gas cloud collapses into a supermassive star first, which then collapses into a black hole, which then — presumably again thanks to the state of the early universe — sucks up enough matter to go supermassive quickly.
There's a problem with either direct-collapse theory, however, beyond its relatively narrow time window. Previous models show it working only with pristine gas clouds comprised of hydrogen and helium. Other, heavier elements — carbon and oxygen, for example — break the models, causing the giant gas cloud to break up into smaller gas clouds that eventually form separate stars, end of story. No supermassive black hole, and not even a supermassive star for the second flavor of the direct-collapse theory.
A new model
Image source: NAOJ
Japan's National Astronomical Observatory has a supercomputer named "ATERUI II" that was commissioned in 2018. The Tohoku University research team, led by postdoctoral fellow Sunmyon Chon, used ATERUI II to run high-resolution, 3D, long-term simulations to verify a new version of the direct-collapse idea that makes sense even with gas clouds containing heavy elements.
Chon and his team propose that, yes, supermassive gas clouds with heavy elements do break up into smaller gas clouds that wind up forming smaller stars. However, they assert that's not the end of the story.
The scientists say that post-explosion, there remains a tremendous inward pull toward the center of the ex-cloud that drags in all those smaller stars, eventually causing them to grow into a single supermassive star, 10,000 times larger than the Sun. This is a star big enough to produce the supermassive black holes we see when it finally collapses in on itself.
"This is the first time that we have shown the formation of such a large black hole precursor in clouds enriched in heavy-elements," says Chon, adding, "We believe that the giant star thus formed will continue to grow and evolve into a giant black hole."
Modeling the behavior of an expanded number of elements within the cloud while faithfully carrying forward those models through the violent breakup of the cloud and its aftermath requires such high computational overhead that only a computer as advanced as ATERUI II could pull off.
Being able to develop a theory that takes into account, for the first time, the likely complexity of early-universe gas clouds makes the Tohoku University idea the most complete, plausible explanation of the universe's mysterious supermassive black holes. Kazuyuki Omukai, also of Tohoku University says, "Our new model is able to explain the origin of more black holes than the previous studies, and this result leads to a unified understanding of the origin of supermassive black holes."
The inequalities impact everything from education to health.