Today – March 24, 2021 – is “Equal Pay Day” in the United States.
The date is a symbolic representation of the gender pay gap, showing how far into 2021 the average woman has to work to match what her male counterpart made in 2020 alone. While March 24 represents the women’s average, the gender pay gap is compounded by the racial pay gap. This year, Black Women’s Equal Pay Day is August 3, Native Women’s Equal Pay Day is September 8, and Latina Equal Pay Day is October 21.
In sports, the gender pay gap is especially lopsided.
This year, the highest paid NBA player – Stephen Curry – will make the equivalent of 350-plus WNBA salaries. (And, by the way, there are only 144 players in the WNBA.)
I’ll be the first to say it: this is not fair comparison.
The NBA was founded nearly 75 years ago, while the WNBA is about to celebrate its 25th anniversary. Along the way, the amount of money invested in – and the number of risks taken on – marketing and promoting the NBA far surpass the numbers on the women’s side.
There are plenty of people out there who would blame sports’ gender pay gap on the women. We’ve all know the comments. Women aren’t as fast. Women don’t dunk. Women only play three sets.
But the women’s game isn’t to blame. Instead, in many sports, the gender pay gap is the result of decades of underinvestment, fueled by sexist beliefs.
To create an equitable future for women’s sports, it’s important to recognize inequalities where they currently exist, and understand how they came to be.
While there have been plenty of stories about the stark disparities between NBA and WNBA salaries – as well as the U.S. women’s soccer team’s fight for equal pay – the current gender wage gap extends far beyond the best known sports.
With that in mind, here is where the gender pay gap stands in five Olympic sports.
The following are organized in chronological order and show approximately how far past December 31, 2020 female athletes in each sport will need to continue working to earn what their male counterparts earned in 2020 alone. Unless otherwise noted, the wages listed represent base salary and don’t include income from sponsorships, bonuses, or revenue sharing agreements.
Surfing (World Surf League): December 31, 2020
Ahead of the 2019 season, the World Surf League (WSL) announced that it would award equal prize money to male and female athletes at every WSL event, including the top-tier Championship Tour.
In April 2019, American Caroline Marks became the first woman to take advantage of the new prize money policy, winning the women’s Gold Coast event to pocket $100,000.
Prior to the change, female winners made much less than their male counterparts. At the 2018 Rip Curl Pro, Australia’s Stephanie Gilmore earned $65,000 for winning the women’s contest, while Brazil’s Italo Ferreira took home $100,000 for winning the men’s event.
Alpine Skiing (FIS World Cup): January 17, 2021
The majority of races on alpine skiing’s World Cup circuit award equal prize money.
And because the best women tend to win more races, for the last five seasons, the sport’s prize money list has been topped by a woman. American Mikaela Shiffrin held the title for four straight years (2017-2020), while Swiss skier Lara Gut-Behrami was 2021’s top earner.
Still, there is a small gender pay gap in the sport.
During the 2020-21 season, the top 30 women on the World Cup circuit won an average of 129,259 CHF (approximately $138,345 USD) in prize money, while the top 30 men averaged 135,266 CHF ($144,774 USD).
The 17-day pay gap is the result of two main factors. In recent years, the men’s World Cup calendar has included more races than the women’s, even before weather cancellations get added to the mix.
In addition, some World Cup stops in Austria offer bonus prize money. During the 2020-21 season, the men had five such races, while the women had just one.
Tennis (WTA vs ATP): June 18, 2021
If you’re like me, you’re probably surprised that “Equal Pay Day” in tennis is so late into the year. After all, it was 48 years ago that the US Open started awarding equal prize money after Billie Jean King famously threatened to boycott the tournament. Thirty-four years later in 2007, Wimbledon became the last of the four Grand Slams to award equal prize money.
But while tennis is often lauded for its commitment to equal pay, outside of the four Grand Slams, there is a significant wage gap.
Throughout the year, top men compete on the ATP (Association of Tennis Professionals), while the equivalent women’s tour is the WTA (Women’s Tennis Association). The ATP and WTA tour schedules include top competitions – like the Grand Slams and Olympics – as well as a variety of other premier events.
And it is the payout at those other events that have resulted in the current wage gap.
In 2020, the top 200 men on the ATP tour averaged $568,257 in prize money, nearly twice the average of the top 200 women on the WTA tour ($388,739).
Of course, 2020 was not a typical year. But it also wasn’t a major outlier when it comes to the gender wage gap.
In 2019, the top 200 men averaged ($1,080,371), 25 percent more than the average of the top 200 women ($860,649).
In recent years, some of the sport’s most prominent voices – from King to Roger Federer – have advocated for merging the WTA and ATP tours.
Still, some men have been less supportive. In an interview on CNN in May 2020, Andy Murray – a longtime advocate for women’s tennis – explained that some male players were opposed to equal prize money, even if their own pay increased.
“Let’s say the first-round loser’s check for the men went from $8,000 to $10,000 and the women went from $6,000 to $10,000,” Murray explained. “I spoke to some of the male players about that who were unhappy because the prize money was equal. And I said, ‘Well, would you rather there was no increase at all?’ And they said to me, ‘Yeah, actually.’”
Golf (LPGA vs PGA): July 28, 2026
While female golfers earn more than women in most other sports, they still lag behind their male counterparts in golf.
During the 2020 LPGA season, the top 100 earners – competing in an average of 13 events – pocketed $320,000 in prize money on average. In comparison, the top 100 earners on the 2019-20 PGA Tour – competing in an average of 19 events – earned nearly seven times more: an average of $2,102,446 in prize money per player.
Because 2020 saw many events cancelled, especially on the LPGA Tour, I also compared earnings from the 2019 LPGA Tour with the 2018-19 PGA Tour. Within that time frame, the top 100 men and women competed in about the same number of events: an average of 22.6 for the women, compared to 22.8 for the men. But among the top 100 earners, the average LPGA player took home $584,104 in prize money while the average PGA player earned $2,567,264.
Hockey (NWHL vs NHL): October 24, 2342
That year is not a typo.
Based on current salaries, it would take the average NWHL player over 300 years to earn what an NHL player makes in a single season.
When the current $150,000/team salary cap is applied to an 18-player game roster, the average NWHL player salary comes in at $8,333. In 2019, NWHL players secured a 50-50 split of sponsor-related revenues, and the NWHL has gained more than a dozen new sponsors in the last year, which could boost player wages. Still, the NWHL does not currently provide a liveable wage.
In comparison, during the 2019-20 season, the average NHL salary – not including income from revenue sharing – was 2.69 million dollars.
The 300-year pay gap is one of the reasons many top players opted to leave the NWHL and form the PWHPA in 2019. Many PWHPA players – as well the organization’s operations consultant Jayna Hefford – have said they believe the NHL should play a role in backing a professional women’s league.
When WNBA players opted out of their CBA (collective bargaining agreement) in 2018, WNBPA president Nneka Ogwumike wrote in a Players Tribune essay, “To me, opting out means not just believing in ourselves, but going one step further: betting on ourselves.”
A year later in January 2020, the WNBA and WNBPA agreed to a landmark new deal, which included sharply increased salaries for rookies, higher wages for veteran players, maternity and child-care benefits, improved travel conditions, and increased revenue sharing opportunities.
In the last year, we have seen more examples of this mentality. And not just women betting on themselves, but women betting on each other:
From athletes like Candace Parker and Naomi Osaka investing in the NWSL… to Renee Montgomery becoming a co-owner of the Atlanta Dream… to Alex Morgan, Sue Bird, Simone Manuel, and Chloe Kim teaming up to launch their own media company.
The message is clear: The time to invest in women is now.Follow @AlexAzziNBC
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