The U.S. Women’s National Soccer Team and the Absurdity of the Gender Pay Gap

The gender pay gap is a complicated issue. Though it’s partly caused by the fact that men are more likely to hold higher-paying jobs, it’s also true that women are, on average, paid less for performing the same jobs as men. The solution to the gap is often summed up at its most basic as “equal pay for equal work,” meaning assuming all else is equal, a woman performing the same job as a man and achieving the same results should receive the same pay. If that woman outperforms her male counterpart, her salary should increase commensurate with her performance, and vice versa. That’s easy to understand. Seems fair. Makes sense. Gender should not factor into pay whatsoever.

The U.S. Women’s National Soccer Team is putting that idea to the test: On Thursday five star players on the team filed a wage-discrimination action against the U.S. Soccer Federation with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

soccer team

(Photo Credit: joshjdss/Flickr)

To many casual fans, the United States may not leap to mind as a dominant force when it comes to international soccer. But, in case you haven’t been paying attention for the past, oh, two decades or so, the U.S. Women’s National Team is far and away the best in the world: They’re currently ranked number one internationally, which is a position they held continuously from March 2008 to December 2014 before recapturing it last year; they’ve won the Women’s World Cup three times, including the most recent 2015 tournament; and they’ve been Olympic Champions four times, in ’96, ’04, ’08, and ’12.

Yeah, they’re good. Real good. Largely due to insane athletic performances like this Alex Morgan goal from a few weeks ago:

With all that success on the field they’ve become insanely popular — the Women’s World Cup Final was the most-watched soccer match (men’s or women’s) in U.S. history, with 25.4 million viewers, roughly equivalent to game seven of the 2014 World Series — and make a lot of money for the U.S. Soccer Federation (USSF), the official governing body of the sport of soccer in the United States. According to the most recent USSF financial report, the team is expected to generate approximately $17 million in revenue for the 2017 fiscal year.

Our men’s team, by comparison, is a work in progress. And progress is slow. The men haven’t enjoyed anywhere near the same level of success as the women — having never advanced further than the quarterfinals in any World Cup since 1930 — and consequently they don’t generate the same level of money; their projected revenue for 2017 is $9 million, a little more than half that of the women’s team.

But here’s the thing: Despite the women’s team winning more games and competitions than the men’s, and despite the fact that the women’s team is making way more money for the USSF — ESPN stated the USSF’s 2015 financial report says the women’s team generated nearly $20 million more revenue than the U.S. men’s team in 2015 — according to the wage-discrimination action filed on Thursday, the female players receive roughly a quarter the salary of their less-successful and less-bankable male counterparts.

Uh … what?

That’s like paying a salesperson who occasionally makes quota four times as much the best salesperson in the world!

Along with the suit filed on Thursday, the Women’s Team launched a social media campaign with the hashtag #equalplayequalpay, and so far it seems to have received tremendous support.

As The Huffington Post‘s Justin Block put it, U.S. Women’s Soccer Doesn’t Deserve Equal Pay — They Deserve More.

Off the soccer field and in the office, it’s an oft-stated statistic that women earn 78 cents for every dollar earned by a man. The truth is, in the vast majority of cases, women with similar qualifications working the same jobs as men are not earning 22 percent less than their male peers. The real problem, and a major cause of pay inequity in general, is that men and women are not doing the same jobs in the first place. Men are simply more likely to hold higher-paying jobs, whether it’s because of the industry, job type, or job level.

But in the case of the men and women of the U.S. National Soccer Teams, the inequity is vastly simpler, making it all the more appalling: The women are not only doing the same job, they’re hugely outperforming the men. And yet they’re still only being paid a quarter of a male players’ salary! The rationale — if there is one—for this inequity is beyond outdated; according to PayScale’s 2016 Compensation Best Practices Report, 50 percent of top-performing companies pay based on merit/performance. And beyond that, considering a suit has just been filed, this pay inequity will very likely soon be proven illegal.

The women of the U.S. National Soccer Team are asking to be paid fairly, in line with their performance on the field and the revenue it generates for their employer. They’re pointing a spotlight on the absurdity of the gender pay gap, and they’re not settling for less simply because they’re women. They’re demanding to be paid what they’re worth, and they’re setting an inspiring example for women everywhere.

Here’s to hoping they succeed. It’s about damn time.

To learn more why women still don’t get equal pay for equal work, and other reasons why men earn more, read PayScale’s report, Inside the Gender Pay Gap.

Tell Us What You Think

What do you think of the gender pay gap in professional sports? We want to hear from you! Leave a comment or join the discussion on Twitter.