Unequal Pay on the Field: Assessing The Gender Wage Gap in the Women’s FIFA World Cup

BU Experts
5 min readAug 18, 2023

In light of the 2023 Women’s FIFA World Cup, a labor economist unravels the complex layers of the gender wage gap, its far-reaching consequences, and the need for more supportive public policies.

By Rachel Lin

Photo by Ben Hershey on Unsplash.

As the world comes together to celebrate the pinnacle of women’s soccer prowess in this month’s Women’s FIFA World Cup, the discourse on gender wage disparities assumes an even more relevant spotlight. Amidst the cheers and enthusiasm for the game, the persistence of unequal pay to the female players calls itself into question, sparking conversations that extend far beyond the stadium. A new CNN analysis reveals that female soccer players earn 25 cents to the dollar of men at the World Cup. Though it has improved from the last cup in 2019, receiving equal prize money at men’s and women’s World Cups is still far away. This year, women will still cumulatively receive $330 million less than men did at the 2022 World Cup. Such statistics reveal profound implications of the gender wage gap for women athletes and the broader workforce alike.

Patricia Cortes is a published labor economist and an Associate Professor of markets, public policy, and law at Boston University Questrom School of Business. Previously, she coauthored a paper for the National Bureau of Economic Research where she and other researchers examined the gender differences in job searching and the earnings gap. Her research aims to explore the labor supply of high-skilled and low-skilled women, societal work trends, the impact of immigration on the workforce, and more. Cortes also serves as an Associate Director of the Human Capital Initiative at BU’s Global Development Policy Center, where she leverages her expertise to assist students in their job search endeavors.

In this Q&A, Professor Cortes dissects the gender wage gap, revealing its presence within high-skill occupations and shedding light on the evolving landscape for female athletes. Read about her assessment of public policies and historical trajectories, offering insight that will guide us toward a more equitable and inclusive future both on and off the soccer field.

Photo courtesy of Boston University’s Questrom School of Business.

High-skill occupations, which typically require advanced education and specialized training, also experience a gender wage gap. How does this wage disparity manifest in high-paying professions, and what factors perpetuate the gap?

Interestingly, the gender wage gap is the widest for those with a college education or higher. One of the primary factors behind this phenomenon is that certain high-skill occupations, such as law, academia, and corporate business roles, demand long and unpredictable working hours to succeed. For many women, due to household responsibilities, meeting these demanding hours becomes challenging and costly. As a result, they often opt for positions that pay much less per hour but provide more flexibility. This dynamic ultimately leads to the substantial gender gaps observed in these prestigious fields.

From your observations, have there been any evident developments or trends in the gender pay gap for female athletes that are important to consider?

There has been a couple of visible cases of changes in pay gaps. The first is professional tennis. Since 2007, women and men have received equal prize money at all of the Grand Slam tournaments. Additionally, starting in 2027, the next two tiers of tennis tournaments will pay prize money equal to that on the men’s tour. The second example can be found in soccer, where several countries, including the US (since last year), have implemented equal pay between men and women for representing their respective nations in international soccer matches and tournaments.

How have public policies and legislation influenced the gender pay gap over the years, and what further measures do you believe could be effective in reducing it?

The first pieces of legislation aimed at directly addressing the gender gap were the 1963 Equal Pay Act and 1964 the Civil Rights Act, which prohibit sex-based discrimination in pay, hiring, firing, and promotion. Other more recent policies that have contributed to a reduction of the gender gap include pay transparency laws and salary history bans. In terms of which measures could be effective in reducing pay disparity, policies that help women balance their families and careers are essential. The United States significantly lags behind other developed countries in the provision of paid maternity leave and affordable childcare. The pandemic underscored that, without a robust care economy, women cannot fully integrate into the labor market.

What are the long-term consequences of the gender pay gap for women’s financial independence, retirement security, and overall economic well-being?

I want to respond to a slightly difference question. What is the societal cost of gender inequality in labor market outcomes? Gender inequality does not solely impact women negatively; it also bears a significant economic cost in terms of hindering overall economic growth. Constraints like the ones mentioned above, coupled with other barriers like discrimination and biases, prevent the optimal utilization of women’s talent (think back to the 1960s when there were almost no female doctors or lawyers). As women reach their full potential, the benefits extend to everyone.

The gender wage gap has been a long-standing issue, but it has evolved over time. Can you provide an overview of the historical trajectory of the gender wage gap and discuss what it might look like in the future?

Gender gaps have significantly narrowed over time. In 1982, the median hourly wage for women was 65% of that for men. In 2022, this figure was 82%. The main explanation for this overall change is women’s relative gains in education. Today, a considerably larger share of women graduates from college compared to men, and women have also made inroads into many prestigious occupations. Nonetheless, within education groups, the gender gap has proved very persistent, particularly at the top. We haven’t seen important gains for at least three decades — the gender wage gap among individuals holding a graduate degree has remained at around 25% since the 1980s. Unless important barriers are addressed — such as the provision of high-quality and affordable childcare, a more equitable sharing of household responsibilities within families, and a reconfiguration of work structures to reduce the price of flexibility — it is unlikely that we will witness substantial improvement in the near future.

For additional commentary by Boston University experts, follow us on Twitter at @BUexperts. Follow Professor Patricia Cortes on Twitter @cortespatico. For research news and updates from Boston University Questrom School of Business, follow @BUQuestrom.

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