Fifty years after Title IX, girls and women in sport still have fewer opportunities

A female high school pole vaulter competes during the 2022 Arcadia Invitational
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Nearly 50 years after Title IX was enacted, girls still have fewer opportunities to participate in high school sports than boys did in 1972.

That is one of the key findings from a new report published by the Women’s Sports Foundation (WSF) on Wednesday, 50 days ahead the 50th anniversary of Title IX on June 23.

The WSF report, titled “50 Years of Title IX: We’re Not Done Yet,” found that girls in 2018-19 (the most recent reporting year) had 3.4 million opportunities to participate in high school sports, which is 200,000 fewer than the 3.6 million opportunities boys had in 1972 and approximately 1.1 million fewer than the 4.5 million opportunities boys have today.

The report also found that, at high schools across the county, only 60% of girls are participating in sports compared to 75% of their male peers.

Screenshot from a Women’s Sports Foundation resource about Title IX, showing the number of boys and girls participation in high school sports in 1971-72 compared to 2018-19.

This opportunity gap persists at the collegiate level.

Under Title IX, girls and women are supposed to receive opportunities that are proportional to their enrollment — but that isn’t happening. Women account for nearly 60 percent of the college population, but only 43 percent of college sports opportunities.

According to the WSF report, 86 percent of NCAA institutions are offering a disproportionate number of opportunities to male athletes as compared to their enrollment. During the 2019-20 school year, this resulted in 60,000 missed opportunities for female athletes.

Women are also receiving less in athletic scholarships — by a massive $252 million margin.

“We should absolutely celebrate the fact that girls’ participation in high school sports is nearly 12x higher than it was when Title IX was passed, but we cannot rest on it,” said WSF founder Billie Jean King. “The mere existence of Title IX does not ensure equal opportunities unless it is enforced for everyone, particularly among girls and women of color, those with disabilities, and the LGBTQ+ community – where the gap is consistently the widest.”

The WSF report found that at high schools where the majority of students are Black and/or Hispanic, girls receive 67 percent of the opportunities that are available to boys. In comparison, at predominantly white high schools, girls have 82 percent of the opportunities that boys do.

Despite these staggering disparities, fifty years after Title IX, most recent legislation about women’s sports has been targeted at excluding transgender youth (almost always in the name of protecting or safeguarding women’s sports).

One of the recommendations the WSF makes is for the U.S. Department of Education to “issue specific policy guidelines confirming that Title IX should be interpreted to provide opportunities to transgender and nonbinary students to participate in sports in a manner consistent with their gender identities” and for state policymakers to implement “inclusive policies for transgender and nonbinary athletes.”

Given that most sports are still designated as either “boys’/men’s”
or “girls’/women’s” — labels that can be exclusionary to nonbinary athletes — the WSF supports schools that are interested in creating “gender-free” sports. The WSF also recommends that nonbinary athletes “should always, at a minimum, retain the right to join the team in accordance with their sex assigned at birth.”

Other recommendations include the development of a new federal reporting system that would provide better data on Title IX compliance, encouraging colleges to hire more women and nonbinary individuals into administrative positions, and ending the Title IX “contact sports exemption” (a policy that prohibits girls and women from trying out for some sports teams).

The full Women’s Sports Foundation report — which includes recommendations for policymakers, school administrators, coaches, and others — can be found here. Additionally, the WSF has compiled a list of “Fast Facts” about Title IX that can be found here.

Follow Alex Azzi on Twitter @AlexAzziNBC