When the U.S. women's soccer team notched its fourth World Cup win Sunday in Lyon, France, the crowd engaged in an unusual and sustained celebratory chant: "equal pay."
The team's 2-0 victory over the Netherlands garnered strong TV ratings on Fox and tremendous social media buzz, demonstrating a popularity and success that their counterparts on the U.S. men's soccer team _ which has never won a World Cup title _ could only dream about.
But despite their on-field success, the female players make less money than their less-successful male counterparts, and are waging a legal battle against the U.S. Soccer Federation over the broader workplace issues of gender discrimination and unequal pay.
"At this moment of tremendous pride for America, the sad equation remains all too clear, and Americans won't stand for it anymore," Molly Levinson, a spokeswoman for female players in their equal pay lawsuit, said in a statement. "These athletes generate more revenue and garner higher TV ratings but get paid less simply because they are women. It is time for the Federation to correct this disparity once and for all."
The gender lawsuit against the nonprofit soccer federation _ which oversees and employs the U.S. national teams _ was filed in March in California federal court by 28 members of the women's team, including such World Cup stars as Alex Morgan, Megan Rapinoe and Carli Lloyd. It alleges the female players have been consistently paid less money than their male counterparts, even though the women's performance has been "superior."
While the compensation structures are very different, the lawsuit offers some side-by-side comparisons that show a stark gender discrepancy. For example, women who simply made the 2015 World Cup roster received $15,000 each, while men got $68,750 each in 2018, according to the lawsuit. The difference in potential performance bonuses is even more dramatic.
A spokesman for the Chicago-based federation did not respond to a request for comment Monday.
Experts say the gender pay gap is both complex and difficult to bridge. In 2018, women earned 85% of what men earned, according to a Pew Research Center study.
A June study by Payscale found that women's earnings peak much sooner than for men. The highest median annual salary for women was $66,700 at age 44, while men top out at $101,200 at age 55.
"It's complicated," said Claudia Goldin, an economics professor at Harvard University and an expert on the economic gender gap.
Some of the disparity is rooted in "improper treatment" of female employees, Goldin said. But much of it is due to "the choices people make under the constraints that we live in," she said, where the demands of raising children in dual-earning households may require at least one parent _ often the woman _ to work primarily from home.
She pointed to the often divergent career paths of attorneys as a good example of the gender pay gap, where men disproportionately work in large law firms and women disproportionately work as corporate counsel and in smaller firms, where working remotely may be more feasible.
"If you're in an industry that has any degree of competition, why are you paying this guy more than someone who is doing exactly the same work?" Goldin said. "You ought to have your head examined."
Several high-profile gender bias lawsuits have been filed against major corporations in the past year.
In August, two female former employees at Nike filed suit against the sports apparel company for alleged gender discrimination, claiming the company "pays and promotes women less than men." The lawsuit is seeking class-action status.
Two female employees filed a lawsuit seeking class-action status in April against The Walt Disney Co., alleging "widespread" discrimination and a gender pay gap at the media and entertainment giant.
Sunday morning's telecast of the women's World Cup victory drew an impressive 10.0 rating in overnight metered markets on Fox. Final ratings will be released by Nielsen on Tuesday.
The women, who previously won the quadrennial World Cup in 1999, 2011 and 2015, have proved a much bigger TV draw than the men's final _ absent the U.S. team. In 2015, for example the women's final between the U.S. and Japan averaged 22.3 million viewers on Fox, according to Nielsen. The previous year, the men's final between Germany and Argentina averaged 14.1 million viewers on ABC.
The ongoing success of the women's soccer team has raised the profile of the gender pay gap issue.
Democrat U.S. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez captured the zeitgeist of the moment with a tweet Sunday that had received 109,000 likes as of Monday afternoon:
"At this point we shouldn't even be asking for #EqualPay for the #USWMNT _ we should demand they be paid at least twice as much."
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