45 years ago, cheerleading and square dancing were the sports we associated with young women while only 1 in 27 high school girls participated in athletic programs. By 1998, the ratio skyrocketed to 1 in 3.
The reason was Title IX of the Education Amendments to the 1964 Civil Rights Act. Signed by President Nixon in June 1972, the law mandated gender equity in all federally funded school programs. Sports, though, with the greatest gender disparity, felt the biggest impact.
In her study of Title IX’s impact on women, University of Michigan economist Betsey Stevenson looked at education and the workplace. For education, she concludes that women who participate in athletic programs attend school longer and have higher rates of college attendance. At work, their wages are higher and they are more likely to enter occupations that are associated with men. Furthermore, she hypothesizes that female athletes enjoy the byproducts of sports participation. They develop abilities that the market values and have the positive reinforcement from coaches, friends and family that foster self-esteem.
And that takes us to March Madness. Relevant although perhaps distantly, here is a Mother Jones chart that displays the female/male athletics spending ratio. The purpose of the brackets is to display who would win if spending became the key variable.
We could also say that spending on women’s athletic programs is one yardstick of gender gap progress since Title IX.
Our bottom line? Increasingly gender equity in sports creates a positive externality that extends far beyond athletics. Because of its impact on human capital, the spillover will not only affect women in school and at work, but also I would hypothesize that it will affect their skills as mothers.
Sources and Resources: For an academic perspective, Dr. Stevenson’s NBER paper ideally complemented the Mother Jones article and chart. You might also want to hear Val Ackerman discuss female basketball players’ professional opportunities in this Bloomberg Kathleen Hayes interview.