The U.S. womens national team brought home their second consecutive World Cup on the same day that the U.S. mens national team lost in the CONCACAF Gold Cup final to Mexico.
The U.S. womens team, which began this years World Cup with a 13-0 bludgeoning of an overmatched Thailand team (and endured a bit of criticism for so joyfully celebrating late goals in a game they had clearly already won), had a brilliant run through the World Cup tournament and made it look too easy at times.
I watched or at least followed most of the games and got to see a couple of minutes of the final on a big TV near One World Trade Center. The U.S. womens team is clearly the best the world has to offer.
The U.S. mens team is ... not. And yet the men make more money, which a lot of people think is a serious injustice. What if we reacted the way a lot of activists want us to react when they see workers they think are being unjustly exploited and boycotted the product?
Lets just try a mental experiment. Lets regard the players on the team as some seem to regard themselves, exploited and underpaid. The same claims are made for many people around the world. The commonly proposed solution is the boycott.
Think about this. Would we help the members of the U.S. womens national team (and female athletes more generally) by refusing to go to games, refusing to buy their merch, refusing to watch them on TV, and so on on the grounds that we will only buy a scarf and change the channel back to the USWNT when we see that theyre being paid better?
Nonot if you understand why boycotting clothing companies that employ sweatshop labor and food companies that employ low-wage migrant fruit pickers would be counterproductive.
A lot of the commentary has focused on the fact that the womens national team works just as hard as the men (if not harder) and wins championships while the men struggle and failed to qualify for the 2018 World Cup. Theyre the best in the world, I enjoy watching them, and Im proud of their achievement. However, merely working hard and being very good at something is insufficient. You have to work hard and be very good at something people are willing to pay you to do.
Suppose youre one of the best kazoo players in the world. You might not earn as much as a mediocre accountant because, for whatever reason, theres a much larger market for accountantseven mediocre onesthan there is for professional kazoo virtuosos. To use another example, male models probably work as hard as female models, but theyre paid much less.
In this light, U.S womens national team (USWNT) superstar Megan Rapinoe hit the nail on the head when Rachel Maddow asked her what fans can do to increase players incomes: go to the games, buy the gear, and watch them on TV.
In other words, increase demand for their services. Raise the value of their marginal products. The National Womens Soccer League (NWSL) apparently streams its games on Yahoo Sports, if youre looking for a way to contribute to higher demand for womens sports. Tune in, and encourage your friends to do the same. Higher salaries will follow.
By contrast, boycotting and refusing to watch the USWNT and the NWSL would almost certainly hurt the players. They compete in an insanely competitive market for entertainment, not just on the soccer field. If people were to stop watching, how long would they last? Similarly, what do you think happens to low-wage workers in sweatshops when theres suddenly no longer any demand for their product? They dont earn higher incomes, if thats what youre wondering.
In competitive markets, the intersection of workers productivity and their best available alternatives determine their incomes. Hence, the way to increase their incomes is to make them more productive, give them better options, or both.
Think about the demand side. Revenue from the last cycle for the mens World Cup was over $6 billion, which is almost 46 times as much as the $131 million anticipated for the womens World Cup cycle, 201922. Much has been made of the fact that game revenue from ticket sales and such for USWNT games was higher than game revenue for USMNT games.
This hasnt been true from year to year, though, and game revenue only represents about one-quarter of the [U.S. Soccer] federations gross revenues. Given that sponsorships and payments for TV rights for U.S. Soccer arent earmarked for the mens team or for the womens team, its difficult to say with any confidence that the value of the marginal product for womens-soccer players is higher than the value of the marginal product for mens-soccer players.
Whats more, womens-soccer players got a larger share of the revenue generated by the Womens World Cup than men got from the Mens World Cup. If theres an injustice here, its hardly obvious. If you want to close the earnings gap between men and women, you should spend more on womens soccer.
You should also work to improve the players options off the field. There is a much larger market for male athletes in general than there is for female athletes in general, and those alternatives mean that everything else equal, its harder to induce men to choose soccer over other sports. A man with the athletic chops to be a world-class soccer player could have likely earned a decent living playing another sport.
Think, for example, about Tim Tebow and Michael Jordan taking up professional baseballor think about Heisman Trophy winner Kyler Murray, the #1 pick in the 2019 NFL draft and the #9 pick in the 2018 MLB draft. There just arent as many options out there for womens-soccer players. In order to increase the earnings of womens-soccer players, then, perhaps you should also reallocate some of your entertainment spending toward professional softball.
Who ultimately decides how much Megan Rapinoe and company are paid? As Ryan McMaken points out, its ultimately the consumers, and by and large, consumers have voted overwhelmingly for mens sports. Theres a lesson in here, incidentally, about raising the wages of anyone we think underpaid or otherwise ill-used, whether they be sweatshop garment workers, migrant fruit pickers, or the greatest soccer players in the world. If we want them to earn more, we need to vote for them with our dollars.