After the U.S. women's soccer team beat Japan in the final game of the Women's World Cup on Sunday, giddy American fans who often pay little attention to women's sports — much less women's soccer — were quickly reminded of a less happy reality.
The female players who were just crowned the best in the world brought home $2 million, a tiny fraction of the $35 million the German men's team pocketed for winning the World Cup in Brazil last year. It was even significantly less than the $9 million the U.S. men's team took home for getting knocked out in the round of 16.
It is possible that this year's combination of a successful women's team, blockbuster television ratings and increased attention paid to the gap in what male and female players earn could help enact change. "I really hope there is enough momentum now for people to say enough," said Deborah Slaner Larkin, CEO of the Women's Sports Foundation.
*In the graphic above, the amount given to the winner of the Men's World Cup in 2014 is incorrect. It should be $35 million.
But soccer is not the only sport where there is a wide gap in prize money. At the U.S. Women's Open, which is being played this week in Lancaster, Pa., the total purse will be $4.5 million and the champion female golfer will take home $810,000. That's less than half the men's prize money — at the recent men's U.S. Open at Chambers Bay in Washington, there was a total purse of $10 million and winner Jordan Spieth took home $1.8 million of it.
In cricket, the gap is even wider. At the ICC Cricket World Cup in Australia and New Zealand earlier this year, the men were vying to win at least $3.975 million. Two years ago, when female cricketers played their most recent World Cup in India, the winning team made just $75,000.
And yet, some sports have reached parity. When the women take Centre Court this Saturday at Wimbledon, the winner will earn the exact same amount — about $2.9 million — as the winner of the men's final match on Sunday. Since 2007, when Wimbledon and the French Open joined the other Grand Slam tournaments, tennis has provided equal prize money to men and women.
Other sports, such as running, also make equal payments. According to a report last year by the BBC, out of 35 sports that pay prize money for major tournaments, 25 pay equally and 10 do not. (Some sports, such as basketball, don't give out tournament winnings, though big differences in salaries remain.)
Several sports have made efforts recently to equalize their pay for men and women. When the Association of Surfing Professionals, now known as the World Surf League, was acquired in late 2012, the new ownership made it a policy to have equal prize money for the men's and women's Championship Tour events. Leaders in professional squash have also talked about their commitment to prize parity, though they're not quite there yet.
Are there any common threads among sports that pay equally, versus those that still have a yawning gap? Larkin, of the Women's Sports Foundation, points to two.
Many sports that pay the same across genders also take place at the same venue, she said. When the men's and women's events are held at the same location and at the same time, there's often more crossover viewership, increased media coverage and resources, and, as a result, more public focus on both. "It's easier to devalue one event when it's not at the same time, and then easier to make excuses for why people aren't putting in the investment," Larkin said.
Another commonality, she said, is good leadership. She points to leaders at the Women's Tennis Association who helped push for equal pay. "We're not seeing that with FIFA," she said, referring to soccer's organizing body, which has been embroiled in a corruption scandal and has few women on its executive committee.
To reach parity, "it takes a willingness to make a long-term investment," Larkin said. "The argument that we can't perform — whether it's on the field, in the stands, or on [social media] — that just doesn't hold."