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Sample Dissertation Paper on The U.S. Women’s National Soccer Team’s Lawsuit for Equal Pay
The pay gap between men and women is one of the most prominent and longstanding issues in the struggle for gender equality. Women have faced inequalities with males in diverse areas of life and society since olden times. Reports that women earn less than their male counterparts are hardly surprising, even in developed economies, such as the U.S. For many decades, many studies have yielded empirical data to demonstrate the prevalence and continued persistence of a gender pay gap, thereby making the issue an old problem that the society has struggled to confront and resolve effectively. Data illustrates that women earn less relative to men even when they have an equivalent ability, job skills, experience, and education. This issue's longstanding nature illustrates that the causes of the gender pay gap are complex, requiring the society’s action on many fronts. Actions to confront and address the problem over the decades have been largely unsuccessful.
Efforts to determine the reasons behind the deficit in women's earnings relative to men are more difficult than those to confirm the problem's prevalence. Some analysts have pointed to overt or covert discrimination, while others have referenced the historical nature of wages that has left women underpaid throughout their careers after being underpaid in their initial jobs. Other analysts have identified the ineffectiveness of past and current laws and policies, such as Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Equal Pay Act, as a possible explanation of the deficit. It is also clear that cultural factors have a major role in the problem. Cultural norms and social pressures have a deep influence on gender roles and the career paths and types of occupations that women and men choose, hence their pay levels. Women also face social and family pressures in their careers, which means that they are more likely to work part-time relative to men. While the pay gap problem has improved significantly over the past few decades, it remains a major problem that women and society have failed to confront and solve successfully. This failure by society to confront and solve the issue successfully has promoted desperate choices and actions among women targeting gender pay equality.
The women's national soccer team's recent decision in the U.S. to file a lawsuit for equal pay is understandable in this context. The team took legal action to force the authorities to pay its members as the pay the male counterparts receive. This action is especially significant because the U.S. women’s national soccer team is the current world cup champion after winning the FIFA Women's World Cup in France in 2019. This was the fourth time the team won the tournament, while the men's national soccer team has never won it. The men's team did not even qualify for the World Cup in 2018. Despite a spirited fight for equal pay in the courts, the women’s soccer team encountered a major hurdle when the judge rejected the players' most important claims in the lawsuit (Das para.1-2). This outcome is a further illustration of the complex nature of the problem of gender pay equality.
This paper discusses the gender pay gap, using the case of the U.S. women’s national soccer team’s lawsuit as the focal point, and identifies how the longstanding issue can be resolved sustainably. The analysis illustrates that inadequacy and ineffectiveness of prevailing law provisions against discrimination in pay and a lack of sufficient and effective social and cultural support are important underlying factors in the struggle by the U.S. national women’s soccer team to attain gender pay parity with the men’s team. The U.S. women’s soccer team and the wider U.S. society are likely to remain unsuccessful in resolving the problem of the gender pay gap without a substantial and fundamental transformation in social and cultural values, norms, and attitudes about the roles and positions of women in the society and the economic value of their work.
The U.S. women’s national soccer team filed a gender discrimination lawsuit in the U.S. District Court in Los Angeles, California, early in March 2019. The case involved 28 members of the team seeing to escalate the team’s long-running battle with the nation's soccer federation over pay equity and working conditions significantly. The team filed the case about three months prior to the FIFA Women's World Cup, which it won in France in July 2019. The win represented the fourth time that the national team had won the international tournament, making it one of the most successful national soccer teams around the world. Das (para. 2) notes that in their lawsuit, the 28 team members referenced the gender pay gap as a part and reflection of long-term institutionalized gender discrimination in the U.S. soccer federation's operations and programs. Moreover, the players complained that the effects of this discrimination extended beyond their paychecks to how they traveled to matches and trained and the coaching and medical treatment that they received (Das para.3). Despite playing more games and winning more of them than the men’s team, the women’s team still received less pay from the U.S. soccer federation. Indeed, at the time of filing the case, the soccer team was already a dominant power in the women’s game, as a three-time world champion and a 4-time Olympic gold medalist, yet its compensation did not reflect that.
In filing the case, the soccer team aimed to exploit its players' status and achievements to advance the case for gender pay equality. Some of the team members, such as Megan Rapinoe and Alex Morgan, are accomplished and famous athletes worldwide and are members of a team that has been a leading force in women's soccer for more than a decade.
The team’s lawsuit is a part of a broader fight for equality in women’s sport in North America. Das (para.5) notes that over recent years, teams and individual athletes, including those in other sports across the U.S. and Canada, such as the Women’s National Basketball Association, Canadian soccer, and American hockey, have sought the guidance and support of players in the U.S. women’s soccer team in efforts to win equal pay and working conditions as men. The lawsuit demonstrated the U.S. women’s soccer team’s determination to stand up for women’s rights and lead in the effort to close the gender pay gap.
The action to file the lawsuit was the culmination of long-term dissatisfaction with how the federation treated the team and growing confidence in the players' power to influence change. Das (para. 10) observes that the players' efforts to leverage their social media influence and prominence in support of the cause for gender equality have yielded significant success. For example, soccer’s world governing body, the Fédération Internationale de Football Association (FIFA), had doubled the prize pool available for the 2019 Women’s World Cup following complaints by the U.S. team about over much the tournament lagged behind the men’s event. While a chartered flight was previously an unthinkable luxury for the team, U.S. authorities had hired the team's facility for the 2019 tournament. The problem of a lack of action in addressing the gender pay gap that promoted the team’s choice to file the lawsuit is also evident in the fact that there had been no progress in a three-year-old complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.
Despite the factors and considerations mentioned above, the judge in the lawsuit rejected the players’ fundamental claims early in 2020, thereby presenting a major hurdle in the team’s effort to close the gender pay gap. Das (para.17) observes that from the outset, the lawsuit’s success was highly dependent on proof that the women’s team did the same work as the men’s team. It was also necessary to effectively address questions about differences in the pay structures and negotiated collective bargaining agreements of the two teams. In the ruling, the judge dismissed the argument that the U.S. soccer federation systematically underpaid the team’s members relative to the men’s team. The judge noted that the women’s team were higher earners on both per-game and cumulative bases relative to the men’s team during the years under review in the lawsuit. The judge referred to differences in the structure of contracts for the men’s and women’s teams in making the ruling, observing that the women’s team had agreed to these terms in their collective bargaining agreement (Cater, 2020). Despite the hurdle, the women’s team has vowed to continue with the fight for equal pay.
The Long-Running Nature of the Gender Pay Gap Problem
The women's team's effort to attain equal pay with men and the challenges the players face in this effort reflect the nature of the issue as a long-running problem in society. The gender pay gap the team is trying to confront in the lawsuit is a deep and enduring in the U.S. Research has illustrated that women in all positions across different sectors of the economy and levels within particular occupations receive consistently lower pay relative to men. Stanberry (2) observes the findings in a study by the Institute for Women’s Policy Research that even women in top executive and leadership positions, such as Chief Executive Officers, general counsel, and company vice presidents, often receive pay and remuneration packages that are only about 80% of what their male counterparts with the same job titles earn. This trend replicates across mid-level positions too. The data illustrates that in terms of median salaries, men earn about $7,000 more each year than their female colleagues in the same jobs despite having similar levels of experience (1-5 years) and education backgrounds (bachelor’s degree) (Stanberry 2). The implication is that women earn consistently less for doing the same work as males.
Improvement and Persistence In The Gender Pay Gap
Data from the Pew Research Center, which is a non-partisan think tank that offers research evidence and information on public opinions, social issues, and demographic patterns that characterize the U.S. and the world, shows that the gender gap in pay has been narrowing over recent decades, but that it remains persistent. The gap has narrowed significantly since 1980, but it has remained relatively stable in the past 15 years. Data from the Center based on median hourly earnings among both part-time and full-time workers across the U.S. indicated that in 2018, women earned 85% of what males received (Graf et al. para.1). This finding showed that women needed to work an extra 39 days to be paid the same as men in 2018. In 2017, data analysis illustrated that women in full-time jobs earned four-fifths (80%) of the earnings that men received. This analysis demonstrates that the gap in wages between men and women was significantly smaller in 2018, especially among adults aged 25-34. Women in this age group earned 89% of the earnings men did in the same age group earned.
Figure 1: Figure showing that despite significant improvements in the gender pay gap over the years since the 1980s, especially among 25-34-year olds, it still remains a persistent problem (Graf et al. para.4)
Scant Consolation for Women
While the gender pay gap has demonstrated a positive trend over recent decades, in terms of the gap’s closure, its persistence remains a significant factor in the efforts of women to attain gender pay parity with men. The gender pay gap has reduced significantly from the 1980s, but it remains a persistent problem. Graf et al. (para.4) observe that while the gap was, on average, 36 cents (64% relative to the par of 100%) in 1980, it narrowed to an estimated 15 cents (85% relative to the par of 100%) in 2018. In 1980, women aged 25-34 earned 33 cents less relative to men, but this deficit improved to 11 cents in 2018. Stanberry (2) notes the longitudinal and long-running nature of the gender pay gap as a problem in society. While females earned about 55% of men's receipts in 1960, the gap closed significantly and steadily to 20% in 2017, and analysts have projected that it shall close further to 14% by 2030 (Stanberry 2). Nonetheless, this assessment is scant consolation for women. Women cannot be content with the improving trend in the gender pay gap. The society cannot expect women to be satisfied with waiting for the gender pay gap to close completely in several more decades. Instead, as a rightful component group of the society with an important contribution to the economy, women have a right to expect equal pay now, rather than in the future.
Underlying Factors: Causes and Influences
Complexity of the Causes
The causes of differences between the pay that women and men receive in society are complex. This intricacy reflects in the fact that the struggle for equal pay has failed to yield adequate and satisfactory results despite decades of efforts and campaigns. The persistence of the problem indicates that deeper and more fundamental issues in the society and economy are significant underlying factors that the society needs to address to confront and solve the problem sustainably. This conclusion is also valid considering that the gender pay gap is a longstanding feature of the society and labor markets across the world, rather than only in the U.S.
A complex combination of measurable and difficult-to-measure factors underlies the difficulties that women and society face in closing the gender pay gap sustainably. Measurable factors could include educational attainment, work experience, and occupational segregation. Deeper factors at the social and cultural levels also have a fundamental role in perpetuating the problem and preventing its successful resolution in the long term. Graf et al. (para.5) posit that the gender pay gap has narrowed significantly since the 1960s and 1980s, as discussed earlier, as a demonstration of the success of women’s action to confront and address the measurable factors. Nonetheless, action on other difficult factors to measure at the cultural and social levels remains ineffective.
Socioeconomic and Cultural Factors
Evidence to support the role of social and cultural factors as contributors to women's inabilities and society to address the gender pay gap effectively is significant. Gender discrimination is an important contributor to wage discrepancies in terms of the perceptions that women are less skilled and able to perform in the workplace relative to men. Graf et al. (para.6) observe the findings in a survey by the Pew Research Center that 42% (about 4 in 10) working women reported experiencing gender discrimination in their workplaces, compared with about 22% of men. One of the most reported forms of this discrimination among women was inequality in earnings (Graf et al. para.6). A quarter of the surveyed women reported that they earned less compared with a man doing the same job, compared with 5% of the men surveyed. Family caregiving responsibilities, particularly motherhood, lead to regular interruptions in women's career paths and have significant effects on their earnings in the long term. About 4 in 10 women surveyed in a 2013 study reported taking breaks from their careers at some point to perform caregiving responsibilities in their families, while about 27% reported quitting work altogether to perform these responsibilities (Graf et al. para.6-7). The survey illustrated that women with children take more time off work to perform these caregiving responsibilities relative to men. The survey also established that these responsibilities had significant adverse effects on the careers and jobs of women, leading to lower incomes. Therefore gender discrimination and family caregiving responsibilities are important factors that undermine women's efforts to achieve parity with men in the workplace.
Various theories and concepts have presented socioeconomic and cultural explanations of the persistence of the gender pay gap and women and society's inability to resolve the problem. These include capital, gender role, and undervaluation theory approaches.
The Gender Role Theory
This theory advances the idea that differential gender roles that society members learn early in life influence their behaviors, choices, and perceptions in different life areas, including in the family, personal relationships, schools, communities, and the workplace. Its basis is the supposition that individuals that society identifies as male or female occupy different ascribed roles within society's structures. The society and its members also judge these individuals against these ascribed roles, including expectations of how they ought to behave. A gender (or sex) role is socially constructed and encompasses the attitudes and behaviors that society considers as acceptable and appropriate for the individual based on that person's sex (Brynin 16). Conceptions of masculinity and femininity in society underlie these gender roles. The theory holds that individuals' socially constructed roles determine a broad range of behaviors and choices in individuals' lives, including their modes of dressing and the career paths that they choose and pursue.
This theory is important in explaining the gender pay gap in terms of the influences of socially constructed roles of men and women in education and employment paths, hence the levels of pay. It indicates that the segregation of men and women in work and their roles is not attributable to conscious choice and behavior, but unconscious perceptions of the individuals concerning the behaviors and choices that are appropriate and acceptable in their society. These choices and behaviors are passed from one generation to the other, resulting in social pressures and constraints. As such, the choice of women to pursue employment in lower-paying occupations and reach generally lower levels of education compared to men are the outcome of unconscious perceptions about the positions, choices, and behaviors that are appropriate for men and women. Likewise, the tendency of the society and its members (including employers and other employees) to belittle the roles, work, and contributions of women in the workplace and other areas of the society is attributable to this unconscious understanding.
Human Capital Theory
This theory attempts to explain the gender pay gap and its persistence in terms of the perception that women have lower human capital relative to men. Human capital describes the stock of knowledge, habits, personality and social attributes, and skills that underlie the abilities of individuals to perform labor that can produce economic value. It is the set of capabilities and characteristics that increase the productivity of a worker. This concept supports the role of formal education in improving the productive capacities of individuals and a community. Some analysts of the gender pay gap argue that it is, at least historically, primarily the outcome of women having lower human capital, in terms of a lower repertoire of skills, knowledge, and job experience, relative to men (Brynin 16). The argument is that this problem influences lower productivity among women, hence lower wages. The theory argues that men have had a comparative advantage relative to women in terms of investing time and resources in the development of their skills and abilities through education and job experience. The significant and steady decline in the gender pay gap over recent decades offers some credence to this theory. Over recent decades, women have increasingly sought education and reached higher levels of academic experience, thereby weakening men’s comparative advantage in human capital (Brynin 16-17). Analysts argue that the growing confidence of women to improve their repertoire of skills, knowledge, and job experience relative to men has been an important underlying factor in the improving closure of the gender pay gap.
As mentioned, inequality has persisted in the abilities of women to reach parity with men in terms of the quality of their human capital. Access to education remains gendered to men’s advantage, especially in terms of the fields of study (particularly science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) courses and careers) and the prestige of institutions (Brynin 17). Equally important in this context is the role of women's caregiving responsibilities in the family environment, which continues to undermine the abilities of women to gain job experience and skills relative to men. Women’s breaks from work to perform these responsibilities contribute to lower career prospects over the course of their lives, hence lower incomes from their work. This analysis demonstrates that a significant share of the inabilities of women and the society to achieve gender pay parity is attributable to differential work histories between men and women.
This theory is a significant model in the effort to explain the gender pay gap in terms of the influences of perceptions that women have lower “human capital” (the stock of knowledge, skills, and abilities that underlie productivity) relative to men. It advances the idea that women are unable, due to both historical and complex life and cultural factors, to reach the level of human capital that can produce a level of economic value equal to that of men.
This concept focuses on the possible association of stigma with occupational “feminization” as an explanation of the persistence of the gender pay gap and the failure of women and the society to resolve it. Research has illustrated that occupations with a high proportion of women have lower average pay (Brynin 19). Feminization of an occupation describes the perception of occupation as "feminine," often based on the characterization of its services as feminine or in relation to its preference for a high proportion of women relative to men. Segregation in occupations is the outcome of both supply factors (such as the tendency of men and women to choose different types of jobs) and demand factors (such as employers' prejudices against the roles and positions of women in the workplace and the society). The association of a stigma with occupational feminization largely is an outcome of the perception that the work women perform has lesser value economically and socially (Brynin 19). The theory advances the idea that society undervalues particular types of work precisely because it is women, rather than men, who perform it.
This theory explains the persistence of the gender pay gap in terms of the systematic undervaluation of women's labor. Its idea is that pay practices are heavily subject to socially constructed perceptions and "facts" that support the undervaluation of women's labor. Social pressures and norms, together with the actions of trade unions, governments, and employers, are heavy influences on the pay that women receive. Pay decisions have a basis on typical “masculine” behaviors, such as the performance of long hours of work, abilities to work continuously for a long time, and the application of aggression in negotiations and performance (Brynin 19). The inabilities of women to conform to these norms in the perceptions of society members and employers undermines their pay. The society also views women as secondary earners and as more focused on the intrinsic rewards of work relative to men. These factors influence a culture of undervaluation of women's labor among society members, the government, trade unions, colleagues, and employers.
Significance of Socioeconomic and Cultural Concepts in the U.S. Women’s National Soccer Team’s Plight
These three theories are potentially significant in understanding the U.S. women’s national soccer team’s quest to have its members’ salaries harmonized with those of the male football team. The gender role theory identifies the potential role of the U.S. society’s and the U.S. soccer federation’s (the employer’s) unconscious perceptions of the team and its significance in the society relative to that of the men’s team. The human capital theory could explain the plight of the women's team in terms of America’s and the employer’s perceptions that the team, as a group of women players, has lower “human capital” - knowledge, skills, and abilities, and hence productivity - relative to the men’s team. It could advance the argument that the gender pay gap between the teams is the outcome of the women’s team’s incapacity, in the perceptions of the U.S. and the U.S. soccer federation, to reach a level of ability and skills that can produce a level of economic value equal to that of the men’s team, despite the women’s team’s relatively better achievements. The undervaluation theory could explain the team’s plight in terms of the systematic undervaluation of its labor in the U.S. society and from the perspective of the U.S. soccer federation. This undervaluation is largely attributable to social perceptions of the roles, positions, and labor of women relative to those of men.
The law has a critical role in promoting and protecting the safety, wellbeing, and interests of society members. It is a system of rules and policies that society develops and enforces through government and social institutions to regulate the behaviors, choices, and actions of, and relationships and interactions among society members and other entities, such as businesses, the government itself, and civil groups. In essence, the law serves as the art and science of justice because of its role in ensuring fair and appropriate relationships, actions, and behaviors in dealings among society members, the government, employers, employees, businesses and their clients, civil organizations, and other entities. Therefore, the law and its effects are relevant elements to consider in the struggle of the U.S. women’s national soccer team to achieve pay parity with the men’s team.
U.S. law has illegalized compensation discrimination since the 1960s. The rights of employees against discrimination in their compensation is the subject of several statutes in U.S. federal law. Nonetheless, despite the prevalence and enforcement of these laws, the persistence of the gender pay gap is a potential illustration of a problem either in the design of these laws or in their enforcement. Despite the development and enforcement of these laws, the inabilities of women and the society to achieve gender parity in pay is a potentially strong indication of the laws’ inadequacy and ineffectiveness in confronting and resolving the problem successfully and sustainably. The key legislation that is relevant to the protection of the rights of employees against discrimination in their compensation, and that is relevant in the case of the U.S. women’s soccer team’s struggle for gender pay parity, are the Equal Pay Act of 1963 and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The following is an assessment of the relevance of these legislations in relation to the case.
Equal Pay Act of 1963
The Equal Pay Act (EPA) of 1963 is a U.S. labor law that amended the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) with the aim to abolish wage disparities based on sex. The FLSA, passed in 1938, created the right to minimum wage, set overtime pay, and prohibit the employment of minors. EPA, signed into law in June 1963, was a part of then-President John F. Kennedy's New Frontier initiative. Congress developed and passed the bill in recognition that sex discrimination constituted an unfair model of competition, burdened commerce and the free flow of products in trade, depressed wages and employees’ living standards (and hence affected their health and efficiency), and prevented optimum utility of available labor resources. The legislation required employers to apply the same rates of compensation to employees of either sex for equal work. It referenced the demand of equal skill, effort, and responsibility in work and the performance of work under similar working conditions as important criteria for equal work on jobs. Nonetheless, the legislation exempted working conditions in which a payment model applied in pursuit of a merit system, involved measurement of earnings by quantity and quality of production, or paid attention to seniority from these requirements (Devlin 99-100). In effect, the law did not criminalize unequal pay on the bases of merit, the quantity and quality of production, seniority, and other factors unrelated to gender.
The effect of this legislation in banning discrimination whilst allowing for inequalities in pay based on the elements of merit, the quantity and quality of production, and seniority is significant in regard to the U.S. women’s national soccer team’s case. The provisions of the law made it a little ambiguous because it did not address the potential roles of social and cultural factors in influencing pay decisions. As noted earlier, the success of the U.S. soccer team’s lawsuit was highly dependent on proof that its work (labor) was the same as that of the men’s team (Das para.17). This standard was necessary for the evidence to prevent the defense from using the arguments of merit, the quantity and quality of production, and seniority successfully. Defenses in cases of discrimination in pay based on sex could utilize the three arguments easily and effectively, especially considering the difficulty of disproving the “quality” and merit of production as foundations for differences in pay.
Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964
This legislation facilitates the principle of elimination of discrimination in employment and occupations. It makes it unlawful for employers of at least 15 workers to discriminate against employees based on sex and other characteristics with regard to any aspect of employment. Title VII also prohibits policies or practices that could have a disproportionate effect based on sex (Devlin 99). Nonetheless, this legislation fails to offer adequate protection from the possible influences of cultural and social factors on compensation policies and practices among employers. This weakness is significant because one of the main arguments in the judge’s rejection of basic arguments in the U.S. women’s soccer team’s lawsuit concerned differences in the structure of contracts for the men’s and women’s teams. The women’s team had agreed to terms in their collective bargaining agreement, which was still binding, while the men’s team had agreed to different pay-to-play contract terms (Cater para. 8). The legislation’s provisions are inadequate to address the underlying factors in the workplace that could have influenced the differences in pay contracts, and hence pay differences, between the two teams.
Discussion and Evaluation
Existing laws in the U.S. are inadequate and ineffective in protecting individuals and groups of employees against discrimination in pay. This conclusion is logical because despite the enforcement of this law in the 1960s; thus, it has been in force for more than half a century; the gender pay gap still persists. The law has failed to be useful in the efforts of women and society to achieve gender parity in pay. The case of the U.S. women’s national soccer team serves as an illustration of the failure of this law in this effort. In dismissing the main arguments in the team’s case against the U.S. soccer federation, the judge used the provisions of the existing law, which bans discrimination in all aspects of employment, including pay, based on sex, but it allows for inequalities in pay based on the elements of merit, the quantity and quality of production, seniority, and other factors unrelated to sex. These exemptions have created loopholes that employers across the U.S. could utilize to evade charges of discrimination based on sex. These loopholes relate especially to the difficulties that plaintiffs in cases of discrimination in pay based on sex encounter in proving that discrepancies in earnings are due to gender/sex differences, rather than due to differences in elements of merit, the quantity and/or quality of production, seniority, and other non-sex factors.
An assessment of the ruling statement by the case judge and the defendant’s (the U.S. soccer federation’s) rebuttal is suitable to illustrate this conclusion. The judge referenced differences in the structure of contracts that the men’s and women’s teams had signed as a key basis of the ruling. While the women’s team had agreed to terms in a collective bargaining agreement, the men’s team had agreed to pay-to-play contract terms (Cater para. 8). In its statement to rebut the players’ arguments in the case, the soccer federation argued that while there was a significant pay differential between the men’s and women’s national soccer teams, this gap was attributable to factors other than sex or gender. It identified differences in the aggregate revenue that the two teams generated as a principal factor in the pay gap (Svokos para.2). Rather than the pay differential and variations in other areas, such as the ways of travel, being outcomes of injustice, the soccer federation argued that they were the result of differences between the teams. The federation observed that the men’s and women’s teams played in different locations at different times, and against different opponents. The two teams also had players with dissimilar obligations, and whose compensations and benefits were fundamentally distinct owing to these differences in obligations (Svokos para.5). The federation argued that while the pay-for-play compensation structure for the men’s team meant that the players received pay only when and as they played, the women’s team’s members had guaranteed salaries and benefits. The implication was that owing to these fundamental differences, the players in the men’s team were not counterparts to those in the women’s team from the law’s perspective.
There are two possible ways of interpreting the soccer federation’s response to the team’s complaints. The first is that the soccer federation is using existing loopholes in U.S. law in its defense. This strategy could involve portraying the difference in pay for the men’s and women’s teams as an outcome of factors other than sex to take advantage of the exemptions for equal pay in circumstances that involve considerations of merit, the quantity and/or quality of production, seniority, and other non-sex factors. The soccer federation’s argument that the men’s and women’s teams play in different locations at varying times, and against different opponents, and that their players have distinct obligations, hence different benefits, could fit the merit, seniority, quality/quantity of production, and other non-sex criteria, thereby strengthening the soccer federation’s defense against sex-based discrimination in its pay model. This interpretation would allocate blame largely to the ineffectiveness and inadequacy of discrimination law in America in the effort to prevent discrimination in pay.
The second way of interpreting the response is that the soccer federation is sincere in its argument that the basis of the differential in pay between the two teams is the dissimilarity in their members’ obligations. This interpretation exempts the federation from blame in the observed pay differential between the two teams. Additionally, it implies that the pay difference between the two teams is largely the outcome of social and cultural factors, especially in terms of the U.S. society’s undervaluation of the team’s labor and the quality of its performances relative to the men’s team.
Critical Role of Social and Cultural Factors in the Gender Pay Gap
Either way (interpretations), social and cultural factors are critical in the U.S. women’s national soccer team’s struggle to attain pay parity with the men’s team. In its response to the team’s case, the U.S. soccer federation noted that the women’s team makes less revenue from game ticket sales relative to the men’s team (Svokos para. 12). Nonetheless, data illustrates that while women’s soccer has traditionally been less popular than men’s soccer in the U.S., the women’s team’s successes in recent years have enhanced its commercial and social status, thus its capacity to generate as much or higher income relative to the men’s team. Hess (para.1-2) observes the findings from audited financial statements of the U.S. Soccer Federation (USSF) that U.S. women’s soccer games generated higher levels of revenue relative to the men’s team over a period of three years between 2016 and 2018. In 2016, the team’s games generated $1.9m more revenue relative to the men’s team’s games. In the three years between 2016 and 2018, women’s games yielded about $50.8m in revenue, relative to $49.9m from men’s games (Hess para.2). Ordinarily, these findings of the ability of the women's team to generate equal or higher revenue from game tickets relative to the men's team ought to be an important factor in the quest for earnings parity with the men’s team. The U.S. national women’s team has been significantly more successful than the men’s team, thereby improving its value and rights relative to the men’s team.
The continuing lack of gender pay parity between the two teams indicates a lack of sufficient and effective social and cultural support for the U.S. national women’s soccer team to attain gender pay parity with the men’s team. The U.S. Soccer Federation and the American society, government, and civil society lack adequate support for the rights of the team to attain gender pay parity with the men’s team. This lack of support is particularly evident in the inadequacy and ineffectiveness of prevailing provisions in the law and their applications in supporting the successful resolution of the gender pay gap. The lack of support relates to generally lower regard for the team and its status relative to the men’s team. The fact that the women’s team is more successful but receives less pay relative to the men’s team is reflective of the deficit in social and cultural support for the team relative to the men’s team.
The combination of concepts in the gender role theory, human capital theory, and undervaluation theory, discussed earlier, are fundamental in explaining this lack of support for the team despite its successes. The U.S. society, government, and civil society, along with U.S. soccer authorities, have unconscious perceptions of the women’s team as subordinate in status and position relative to the men’s team. They perceive the team as having a lower level of human capital (skills, knowledge, and ability), hence lower productivity, relative to the men’s team. Despite the women's team's higher success, soccer authorities, the society, government, and civil society regarding the team as unable to reach a level of ability and skills that can produce a level of economic value equal to that of the men's team. The lack of cultural and social support for the team indicates that the US society systematically undervalues its women’s national soccer team’s labor. The US society has feminized the occupation of female soccer, characterizing its services and performances as feminine. It has developed and attached a stigma to the occupation, based on the perception that the women’s team’s work and performances are of lesser social and economic value relative to the men’s team’s work and performances.
These trends largely concern the influences of social perceptions and “facts” that support the undervaluation of women’s labor and performances. These perceptions promote a culture of decision-making that prefers typical “masculine” behaviors in pay for the men’s and women’s teams. The U.S .society perceives women’s soccer as less aggressive, weaker in performance, and requiring a lower level of skill and ability relative to the men’s game. The women’s team’s inability to fulfill these “masculine” criteria in the perceptions of the U.S. society, government, soccer authorities and civil society undermines its rights to gender pay parity with the men's team.
Need for a Fundamental Sociocultural Transformation
For the women’s team, specifically, and the society in the U.S., generally, to resolve the problem of the gender pay gap effectively and sustainably, a fundamental and substantial transformation in social and cultural values, norms, and attitudes about the roles and positions of women in the society and the economic value of their work is vital. Such a transformation is only likely with change on two fronts. The first front concerns alterations and improvements in the fundamental structure and culture of the U.S. society through educative and sensitization campaigns about women's rights and positions in society. The second front concerns conscious efforts at the individual and community levels to alter attitudes towards women and their roles, work, and positions in the society relative to those of men. These efforts have to address directly and significantly the unconscious social and cultural attitudes and perceptions of women as subordinate to men, their work as of lesser social and economic value, and femininity as weaker relative to masculinity. These changes are essential to strengthen the adequacy and effectiveness of support for efforts to close the gender pay gap successfully. Such support at the society level would translate into law changes that can support the plight of groups such as the US women’s national team in seeking gender parity in pay.
This paper has discussed the problem of the gender pay gap in the US, with special reference to the US women’s national soccer team’s lawsuit against the country’s soccer federation as a case study. The ultimate purpose of the paper is to identify the basic issues behind the persistent gender pay gap and ways in which it could be possible to resolve this problem successfully and sustainably. The analysis has identified inadequate and ineffective law provisions against discrimination in pay and a general lack of cultural and social support for gender equality in pay as important underlying factors in the U.S. women’s national soccer team’s struggle to attain pay parity with the men’s team. This lack of support is evident in a culture of the feminization of the occupation of female soccer, characterization of its services and performances as feminine, and attachment of a stigma to women’s soccer based on the perception that women’s work and performances yield lesser economic and social value relative to men’s work. To address the problem effectively, a fundamental transformation in social and cultural values, norms, and attitudes about the roles and positions of women in the society and the economic value of their work is necessary.
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