Women and Sports: the Gender Pay Gap in World Football

Female participation in the labour market was once seen as a huge success—the ability to rely on none-other than women themselves rather struck the stereotype of gender-reliance in the face as women emerged into the workforce. However, while the presence of female bodies in differentiating fields of work was seen as a huge win for women, the one downfall was the significant shortcomings of their paychecks that represented a disillusioned aspect to the authorization of women’s labour market participation. Although female bodies were no longer confined to the duties of the household, the success in achieving entrance into the workforce was rudely overshadowed by a dark reality: the wage gap. The wage gap refers to the “differences between the wages earned by women and by men” as described in an article by Blau in 1996. While these stereotypical and outdated concepts of gender-segregated pay stubs often depict the ways in which life once was, [image: ]the question that remains is: how do they play a part in the role of the gender wage gap in sports? I put forth the idea, through this article, that the gender wage gap persists to this day, though it is often unrecognized, or maybe even unacknowledged and undermined by the presence of capitalism that resonates in society today. I will explore the gender wage gap between men and women in sports through the following: the representation of female bodies in the generalized work force as well as football; coaching in Division 1 collegiate sports; and through professional football.

Female Bodies and the Sports World Labour Market

Female presence in the work force hasn’t always been a given, but in society today, we often forget the many hardships and battles that women went through in order to gain the recognition, the rights, and the opportunities that we so graciously have in society today. Women’s representation in sports, among other stereotypically-gendered fields, has long been repressed due to the false idea that they don’t contain or withhold the proper credentials, information, and yes, even knowledge, in order to achieve positions in specific professions. In an article titled “The gender wage gap: Extent, trends, and explanations,” Blau and Kahn integrate the ways in which the gender wage gap effects a multitude of occupations and engages with the integration of a systemic global crisis that leaves female bodily presence in the labour market significantly lower than their male colleagues. This “gender ratio” seemingly stems from a once oppressed and ever-present system that leaves knowledgeable women outcasts in their occupations (Kanter 1977 cited in Knoppers et al., 1989). Differences created by the social construction of norms rather reflect values, beliefs, and gender-segregated roles onto male and female bodies both within the work force and outside of it. These differences that are applied to the gender binary, often aid in the maintenance and recirculation of ongoing gender norms that contribute to the wage gap within specific industries like the world of sports.

Heather Rabbats, First Female Member of Football Association

While the wage gap persists among all levels of the ladder of hierarchy within given jobs, the most noticeable difference is maintained at the ‘top,’ whereby women come face-to-face with the notion of what Blau and Kahn refer to as the “glass ceiling” (2017). The concept of the glass ceiling represents the multiple barriers presented to women upon entering ‘top’ levels of the labor market and how these levels have been, and still remain, seemingly unreachable to female bodies—particularly in professional sports (Blau & Kahn 2017). In an interview with executive director of Women on Boards, Claire Braund exposes the discrepancy of gender-ratio in managerial positions within the world of football and rather explains that, “the main governing bodies in world football have few women on their boards,” leading to a lack of female representation at the so-called ‘top’ and allowing the gender pay-gap to persist (Hunt citing Braund 2016). The article that depicts this interview rather exposes that fewer than 30% of board seats are held by women, and across 28 international sports federations women only held 18% of title as board members (Hunt 2016). These stats demonstrate the inequality presented at the ‘top’ of the hierarchal chain within professional football and can generally be applied to the inequalities that gender-ratio presents in generalized occupations in terms of the ‘glass-ceiling’ and the work positions that remain above this boundary. The imposition of power is dawned on women through capitalist systems of governance whereby roles at the ‘top’ are held and maintained by none-other than men. McMullin and Curtis go on to explain that “even in the 20 most highly paid occupations—occupations that are disproportionately held by men—women earn less,” which presents such a staggering difference that, while slowly improving, should never have been differential in the first place (2017). The pay inequity suffered by women often goes unrecognized, or even ignored, by both men and women because of the ways in which capitalism and patriarchy allow for reproduced notions of toxic stereotypes regarding women in the labour market as having significantly less qualifications than their male counterparts. Women’s restricted access to executive and managerial positions through the notion of the glass-ceiling can be easily noticed by looking at Division 1 collegiate sports where the gender differences are often applied and rather allow the gender wage-gap to persist.

Coaching Division 1 Sports

Being able to participate in collegiate sports is one aspect of university that is granted to both male and female students in today’s world—or at least in Canada and the United States. However, having the opportunity to coach in Division 1 collegiate sports is another realm that rather reflects and emphasizes the gender pay gap. Peterson and Morgan engage with a concept that describes how women receive lower wages than men within a given occupation—this is known as “within-job wage discrimination” that female coaches often face (2011). The within-job wage discrimination is awarded to gender in sports and the ways in which it demonstrates the “extensive and pervasive” nature of discrimination that illuminates its resilience in the face of provocation (Peterson & Morgan 2011). Because women are seen differentially to men, the sports industry presents female bodies as a minority group that subsequently diminishes what little power they have in determining the allocation of rewards.

The sports world, as posed in the article by Knoppers et al., is said to have been “almost exclusively male” until recently, which proves that it’s often contrived as a gendered institution that values male control through positions such as coaching and board membership, while simultaneously demonstrating to women that female bodies don’t belong or shouldn’t have a place in sports (1989). It can therefore be said that the sports world is a suitable institution to study gender in because of the perseverance of gender norms, stereotypes, and relations that are continually reproduced through women’s experiences (Knoppers et al., 1989). When considering leadership roles and managerial positions, a human capital approach can be applied to explain how the gender wage gap occurs in occupations that are traditionally male centered, like sports. Furthermore, in the article “Gender and the salaries of coaches,” the notion of the human capital approach is said to assume that variations in abilities, skills, and interests brought to occupations are functions of wage differences, which essentially means that higher salaries are equated to people that present better qualifications in a given occupation (Knoppers et al., 1989). Ultimately, the human capital approach fails to recognize how gender differences and discrimination against women are systemic problems posed by capitalist systems of governance and are reproduced through social norms and constructs surrounding gender. But the problem that stands is that when men’s and women’s occupations are the sports they play, and the sports they play are at the same level—whether collegiate coaching or professional—should the pay not be equal? An article regarding collegiate coaches and the wage gap rather informs the reader that in a study between male and female coaches, 93 percent of women for Division 1 collegiate coaching had completed a physical education major, while only 79.7 percent of men had done the same. Accompanying these percentages is information regarding the lack of female bodies in coaching positions as allocated to the “scarcity of qualified female coaches,” but this is ultimately debunked because coaches must attend work-shops and coaching clinics that “enable women [among their male counterparts] to learn coaching skills and become more qualified,” which doesn’t explain why female bodily presence in coaching isn’t higher within sports aside from idealized notions that men are predominantly a part of the sports world and “know more about sports than women” (Knoppers et al., 1989). The aforementioned article insists that the wage discrimination cannot be justified by the human capital approach, it rather demonstrates that institutionalized discrimination against women and the roots of the institutions within capitalism ensures male dominance within the labour market, and thus, the sports world. While capitalism ensures male dominance especially in seemingly gender-segregated occupations, Peterson and Morgan ultimately conclude that “the wage gap … among managerial employees is greater” than those in other positions within a given field, but is also emphasized in relation to the gender binary. Instead, patriarchy devalues women and demonstrates the need to satisfy the demands of male-dominated capitalism through inequity, differential labour, and therefore determining why and how women can be paid less (Knoppers 1989). Ultimately, when the gender ratio tips towards men, they “must be paid more than women to prevent the job from losing prestige” which coexists with the fact that there is prestige attached to male coaches that train male athletes and therefore are further rewarded with higher salaries (Knoppers 1989). Women suffer at the hands of the male-dominated sports world in many ways, these include: the glass-ceiling preventing entrance into top realms of work-place hierarchies; the wage gap and its correlation to gender ratio; and the allocation of rewards as determined by those in power.

In playing soccer, coaching, spectating, and even running the same sport as men, women still suffer from inequality that’s presented by the wage gap that benefits the majority (men) and disadvantages the minority (women). In terms of professional sports, a huge controversy regarding the gender wage gap in world football surfaced earlier this year and brought anger to the female faces of FIFA. In October 2018, FIFA announced that it was doubling the prize money of the Women’s World Cup from 15 million dollars to 30 million, which, as demonstrated in an article by BBC, is over ten times less than the standing prize money for the Men’s World Cup (McCarthy 2019; Reality Check Team 2019). In an aforementioned interview with Claire Braund, the statement that there is a “persistent bias that women’s sport is not as physical and not as good to watch,” but this doesn’t change the fact that female football players are battling for pay equity in a billion-dollar industry that favours the men’s teams over the women’s (Hunt 2016). However, another valued point contributes to this wage gap and it has to do with the amount that the gender segregated teams earn in regards to “preparation costs and club compensation,” which ended up having a 700,000-dollar difference—the lower end, of course, for women’s teams (Reality Check Team 2019). In the already-cited article from BBC, Caitlin Murray, the author of a book on the US women’s football team history, states that “the prize money ends up being so small for the women… that we see players relying more on sponsorships, club salaries, or federation shares,” which demonstrates the complete lack of regard for the work, effort, training, and time put in by the women’s team, which is ultimately comparable to the men’s team (Reality Check Team 2019). However, jumping back to McCarthy and the information presented in his article, because the Women’s World Cup didn’t become popular until recent years, the “growing profile” rather resulted in a “heightened debate and controversy about earnings and prize money” when compared to men’s soccer. The 2018 FIFA World Cup easily demonstrates why this debate is becoming so heightened—it’s because of the fact that the gender wage gap between the Men’s World Cup in Russia and the Women’s World Cup in France suffers from a 370-million dollar discrepancy, whereby men compete for a 400 million dollar pot, split between 32 men’s teams, while their female counterparts compete for only 30 million and split between 24 teams! (McCarthy 2019). Even though the US women’s team won the world cup, Hope Solo, one of the team members reports that “male chauvinism is entrenched in FIFA and that these [wage] disparities are a reflection of that,” rather articulating just how present this disparity is to women, and also how deeply rooted in the idea that the sports world is a gender-segregated institution (McCarthy 2019). Another furious player from the women’s US soccer team, the former goalkeeper, is seeking out change in equal pay through a lawsuit against the US Soccer Federation, which shows just how great the pay disparity is between the men’s and women’s professional leagues (McCarthy 2019). As noted by Blau’s 1996 article, “pay inequality is a reflection of various inequalities between women and men on the labour market,” which only further demonstrates how preparation costs, club compensation, and splitting 30 million dollars between 24 teams, (as compared to 400 million dollars between just 8 teams more), contribute to the persisting wage gap. In terms of professional football, the controversy of the gender wage gap blew up earlier this year and resulted in the backlash of female players, board members, and bystanders globally. While the wage gap is an issue of both the past and present, many question how it may play into the world of sports; however, through my article I have demonstrated how the gender wage gap functions in society. Capitalism reinforces male-dominated institutions and social structures that often present a “glass-ceiling” to women upon attempts at entering ‘top’ levels of given occupations such as board members, executive, and managerial positions. Division 1 collegiate sports also supplement the ever-present system that discriminates against women in terms of their pay checks by executing excuses that say women aren’t as qualified as their male counterparts, (though they arguably do, considering the stats presented). And finally, professional sports are an outlet for what people call “gendered institutions,” these institutions markedly report that women don’t belong in the sports industry and thus are often discriminated against, ultimately resulting in a gender-segregated pay gap.


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  2. Blau, F. D., & Kahn, L. M. (2017). The gender wage gap: Extent, trends, and explanations Journal of Economic Literature, 55(3), 789-800. doi:10.1257/jel.20160995
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  4. McCarthy, N. (2019, June 11). The Gender Pay Gap at The FIFA World Cup Is $370 Million [Infographic]. Retrieved from https://www.forbes.com/sites/niallmccarthy/2019/06/11/the- gender-pay-gap-at-the-fifa-world-cup-is-370-millioninfographic/ #3ff32ade2751.
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  13. Jill Ellis, former US women’s football coach Source: https://kslnewsradio.com/1909095/jill-ellis-stepping-down-as-us-womens-soccer-national-coach/
  14. https://www.forbes.com/sites/niallmccarthy/2019/06/11/the-gender-pay-gap-at-the-fifa-world-cup-is-370-million-infographic/#4b5050ea2751
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Women and sports: the gender pay gap in world football. (2021, Mar 30). Retrieved September 23, 2022 , from

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