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Equal Pay for Unequal Work—A Symptom of Prosperity

On Monday, 4 November 2019, Australian media outlets announced a historic deal brokered between the Football Federation of Australia (FFA) and the Professional Footballers Association after a year of negotiations. This new arrangement will see the Matildas (the Australian women’s soccer team) and the Socceroos (the Australian men’s soccer team) evenly splitting the sport’s commercial revenue, rather than each team receiving a cut of their own generated revenue. This follows a number of other nations arranging similar collective bargaining agreements.

This change has been described as a major win for women’s sport, but detractors have been quick to point out some logical and ethical inconsistencies. Chief among these is the Matildas’ highly publicised 7-0 loss to a team of teenage boys from Newcastle in 2016 which raised questions about the standards of Australian women’s soccer. At that time, goalkeepers Melissa Barbieri and Mark Bosnich engaged in an online exchange, during which Barbieri argued it was not the intention of female soccer players to be paid the same as their male counterparts.

This debate is an addition to the growing list of global gender-based sporting controversies that span decades. In 1973, retired 55-year-old self-styled tennis hustler, Bobby Riggs lost to Billie Jean King in a match dubbed the “Battle of the Sexes”the subject of a 2017 feature film of the same name. 44 years later, outspoken former tennis champion John McEnroe attracted criticism for disputing that Serena Williams was the world’s greatest tennis player. Speaking to multiple outlets, McEnroe suggested that Williams would be ranked 700 on the men’s circuit. In recent years, gender issues have been complicated further by an array of transgender controversies in sports such as Australian football, martial arts, and teenage wrestling. There have also been persistent attempts to exclude Caster Semenya from women’s athletics for having high levels of naturally produced testosterone.

The issue of gender in sport brings an acknowledgement that transgender women and men have a physical advantage over women into conflict with a doctrine stipulating that there are no meaningful differences between the sexes. But this has in turn created confusion over the issue of sporting ability. That teenage boys can soundly defeat the Matildas or that a male tennis player ranked in the 600s might defeat Serena Williams does not necessarily reflect a disparity in technical skill. Rather, it reflects a disparity in attributes such as speed, height, and physical strength which combine to produce an advantage so overwhelming it precludes the possibility of fair competition.

Segregation in sport, therefore, is not limited to gender. Contact sports such as boxing or martial arts also divide participants by weight class, not only to ensure fair competition but also to protect the safety of competitors. Remuneration then is a matter of how much revenue they are able to individually generate. However, critics of the deal to split Australia’s soccer revenue have pointed out that there is a considerable disparity in revenues generated by the two teams, implying a significant portion of the Socceroos-generated revenue will now be redistributed to Matildas players. During the women’s world cup in 2019, the Fédération Internationale de Football Association (FIFA) was found to be exaggerating ticket sales and sold-out matches when stadiums were plagued by empty seats.

So, it seems that a team attracting lower revenue for the sport is also now being paid the same as a team which attracts more customers. And if pay parity between the Matildas and Socceroos is simply based on the fact that each team is representing the country in their respective competitions, then surely it follows that youth teams and Paralympic teams deserve pay parity as well. If pre-existing disparities in pay between men and women are said to be caused by sexism, then, by the same logic, the comparatively small percentage of team budgets currently set aside for youth and Paralympic teams would be evidence of ageism and ableism, respectively.

The Matildas’ landmark deal may actually prove counterproductive for the pay gap movement. Sporting controversies like those discussed above only serve to highlight differences between the sexes and raise questions about the conflation of equality and sameness in other areas. This could muddy the waters on equal pay disputes in more conventional workplaces where individual differences in pay entitlement aren’t as obvious to outsiders. As is the case in many parts of the world, leading Australian figures have continually misrepresented wage gap statistics which only further fuels suspicion. One such example is former federal politician, Kerryn Phelps who spoke out regularly about the gender pay gap and level of male representation in executive roles. Paradoxically, the 2016 national census indicated that two-thirds of those working more than 49 hours per week in her own electorate were male.

Similarly, in a 2018 statement to parliament on the issue of gender-based discrimination in the workplace, career Labor politician Tanya Plibersek said, “It makes no sense to me that a person with a Certificate III in Early Childhood Education earns 20-something bucks an hour and someone with a Certificate III in Metal Work earns 40-something bucks an hour. There is no way that is anything other than gender-based discrimination.”

Some may perceive an unhealthy balance in the pay of these two professions. But it is important to look at the detail. There is no such thing as a Certificate III in “Metal Work” in Australia. However, there is a Certificate III in Engineering (Fabrication Trade). This qualification takes approximately four years to complete, accompanied by a low-paid apprenticeship. The Certificate III in Early Childhood Education and Care, on the other hand, typically takes 12 months to complete, with other providers offering the program in as little as three months. Comparing graduates of these two programs is as unhelpful as comparing, say, graduates of bachelor degrees in arts and medicine. And that’s before various other factors are taken into account (discussed at length by public intellectuals such as Jordan Peterson). There is also no evidence of unequal pay between sexes within each of those disciplines but considerable evidence of discrimination against males in childcare.

Some people, regardless of political persuasion, recognise unique challenges females face in both the workplace and broader society. It is therefore puzzling to observe a growing list of questionable arguments which serve to reverse the progress made in the volatile realm of gender equality. Murray’s suggestion that society is increasingly suffering from Ken Minogue’s St George in retirement syndrome appears to be the best explanation for this phenomenon. Rather than being stimulated by factors like the slow death of god or a global financial crisis, perhaps our unprecedented and widespread prosperity have made us the victims of our own success and privilege.

Take, for instance, the changing nature of work over the past century from dangerous occupations in primary production and heavy industry to the sedentary knowledge economy. Despite arguments made by Generations Y and Z, we are generally more privileged than our grandparents. In fact, one of Generation Y’s most pressing concerns is how to fund our record-length retirements without bankrupting society. This is a far cry from the likelihood of dying on a worksite or battlefield before your 30th birthday, and makes it more difficult to accurately understand the nuances of historic inequality in the workplace.

Our unprecedented levels of prosperity offer us the privilege of devoting resources to fixing problems we perceive in the world, whether they be real or perceived. The World Bank and other sources have observed the correlation between prosperity and activism in the environmental movement. In effect, a starving family doesn’t have time to think about their impact on the environment, let alone campaign to ban plastic straws. A starving society doesn’t have the time to ascertain if there is an equal number of males and females both accumulating resources and rearing children.

There is a possible solution to at least resolving the artificial economy of sex in sport and reorienting it toward both merit and equality—marketability. Women’s sports may struggle to reach the same physical calibre as men’s sports, but they can be more entertaining than men’s sports and attract proportionate revenue. Some fans of mixed martial arts argue that women’s competitions are more entertaining than men’s because they focus more heavily on technique than brute strength. Some fans of soccer argue that women are less likely to take dives. Virtues apparent in particular women’s sports could be the key to approaching, matching, and even overtaking their male equivalents in some cases. It is then incumbent on male athletes to remain competitive for audience attention by improving the marketability of their own competitions.


Luke J. Graham is an Australian based in the UK. He is completing postgraduate studies at the University of Oxford. You can follow him on Twitter @LukeJGraham


  1. “ Women’s sports may struggle to reach the same physical calibre as men’s sports, but they can be more entertaining than men’s sports and attract proportionate revenue.”

    Case in point - women’s beach volleyball.

  2. Many of the supposed challenges women face stem from the frustrating tendency for women to not be exactly like men. Feminists are aghast most women are not interested in cutting their hair short, shacking up with a woman, and foregoing pregnancy and motherhood in favour of aggressively pursuing a high-power career.

    The real challenge women face is that most want to be a primary caregiver, but also still have a fulfilling career. Developing structures in the workplace to accommodate children, expanding the ability to work from home, and overall increasing flexibility is beneficial for everyone, but particularly women.

    I think most women want a lifestyle where they don’t have to choose between family and career. Activists should be agitating for that in their workplaces, not mindlessly demanding redistribution.

  3. Is that true, though? It seems like most people of either sex just want to have financial security, and a career is simply a means to that end. I imagine that people with real career ambitions are relatively rare. Although I may be projecting there.

  4. Jordan Peterson talks about this to his students in (at least) one of his lectures: how he got to know these high achievers (through his therapeutics practice) who are seriously driven. How they answer the phone 3AM on Sunday because a Japanese customer want something fixed up & they know that if they don’t take the call then next time somebody else will get called.

    (Some) young women see the glorious aspects of being a captain of industry but they do not realize the inhumane efforts which go into those performances. Young men don’t, either – but their moans aren’t being taken seriously by society. Women are able to sell this notion that any male who refuses to be a white knight exhibits his inner misogyny by that.

  5. Yes, I’ve heard Peterson talking about that before. Such driven people are quite rare, and I’d wager that many of the men with strong career ambitions are also largely motivated by the fact that they know career success will improve their desirability to the opposite sex, an incentive that is mostly absent for women.

  6. Do these equal pay arguments likewise apply to wage discrepancies in modeling? After all both men and women are simply displaying clothes and products. Shouldn’t top male models receive the same compensation as top female models, regardless of demand for services?

  7. Shouldn’t Lou Canova receive the same concert remuneration as Taylor Swift since both are just singing to an audience? Why should audience size or performer merchantability matter?

  8. The issue is draw. Men’s sports draw more fans than women’s sports. Period - forgive the pun.
    In fact, women’s sports only exist because of male sports. I’m using “male sports” loosely as women are free to join every single major sport in North America - but they can’t. Even as a fucking kicker (American football). Women’s sports are a protected class - and often their leagues are held up by the revenue of men’s leagues alone while operating at a loss (WNBA).
    If you really think there’s some kind of secret cabal that’s holding women down - the perpetrator is other women - who don’t care at all about women’s sports. And in most cases men concur. Why watch a PG-13 version of a movie when you can see it unencumbered and rated R?

  9. Wasn’t Taylor swift the one promoting equality recently; in an acceptance speech after being awarded some prestigious trophy - to go with the multi millions she’s received.
    So yes Taylor, why don’t all the singers and musicians just pool the money and split it up tens of million ways. Or, perhaps, force anyone buying a book to select it blind from a category list.
    Weapons grade arrogance, stupidity and hypocrisy from the usual suspects.

  10. Sports is a good metaphor for the entire modern feminism movement.

    Women in sports are a protected priviliged class. The reason there is such a thing is “women’s sports” at all and not simply “sports” is to give an advantage to women, protect and support women so that they can compete and in the case of professional sports get paid. Without this special advantage womens professional sport would probably nto exist at all and in amatuer sport they would be extremely marginal.

    Ther is a sens ein which the transfer of money from male to female sport can be seen as entirely benign and no different than a general desire to support the base through support for lower tiers and developmental levels. However instead of recognising the proviliged and advantaged position women in sport enjoy, protected from competition and subsidised by male sport there is a constant complaint about discrimination and demands to further increase the subsidy they receive from men. All in the name of ‘equality’.

    Tennis is probably the ultimate example. No female tennis player comes close to even an average professional male player. At the top level the difference is vast not just in the speed, power and endurance but also in the level of competion. As a result the value of men’s tennis in terms of media rights is vastly greater than women’s tennis but despitethis for the major events women get paid the same despit ebeing noweher e near the same level, nothing like as entertaining and not playing for anything like as long.

    If you talk to people involved in professional tennis then they generally refuse to comment on teh issue at all. Everyone knows that it is deeply unfair, that tennis as a professional sport relies on the men for its earning power and success and that women are massively subsidised. However no one will say anything becaus ethey know to express the truth is to invite a media storm and career damage.

    This is the world in a microcosm. Men and women have in general different interests but men work longer hours, in more stressful and dangerous occupations without career breaks. Yet women complain when they are not paid the same. In fact in my experience employers go out of their way to encourage and support women preferentially but whatever advantages women are given is never enough. They want, as the article say, equal pay and status without working as long, without the responsibility and without the same experience. Just as women tennis players or footballes who are not the equal of schoolboys want to be paid the same as adult male players.

  11. I think this is one of the more profound differences between the sexes. Women are largely as you say IMHO – they are looking for security. But men pursue their projects, yes, partly to gain money and status (which they convert to success in the mating game) but also partly because men are driven to explore and discover for their own sakes. An Einstein is not looking for money, he hardly gives a damn about money, he is looking for answers. Armstrong did not risk his life for money or sex or even fame – he hated the fame – but because being the first guy to walk on the moon is … it’s a guy thing … if you have to ask you’ll never know. But a Currie or a Meitner don’t have to ask, they already know.

  12. It’s a simple question. I just want to know how you plan on shunting me aside for choosing to not spend my hard earned money on women’s soccer. If the answer is violence just come out and say it instead of these cryptic remarks about going to war and making no bones about the coming ugliness.

  13. Slightly more than half of all coal miners are going to be women? That’ll be the day …

  14. Southeast Asia, that feminist paradise. Are you aware of the gender-equality paradox? Prosperous countries with the strongest gender egalitarian attitudes and which allow the greatest freedom for people of both sexes to pursue their own interests show greater gender disparities in the career choices made. For instance, Algeria has a much higher percentage of female STEM graduates than ultra-progressive Sweden.

  15. Is this what your gender-egalitarian future utopia will look like after the revolution? Cambodia?

    Edit: dammit, AW beat me to it with more substance too. Props

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