Unequal Pay: What Female Soccer Stars And MBAs Share

AP Photo / Elaine Thompson

Women's Soccer

AP Photo / Elaine Thompson


Every year, many post-graduates consider getting an MBA degree. While there are many reasons for pursuing the degree, one of the main considerations is whether the hefty price tag and time spent in a typically 2-year program is a worthwhile investment. Women potentially face another calculation, according to one Bloomberg report on the lack of women in MBA programs: family planning.

As Bloomberg reporter Natalie Kitroeff points out, according to business school deans: “Elite business schools typically prefer that applicants have about 5 years of work experience, which means the average MBA student is 30 years old at graduation…Women in their late 20s who think they’ll want to have children at some point may feel they’d do better racking up career experience than taking two years off.” In response, some business schools have attempted to reduce the admissions age to try to reach gender parity more quickly in the classroom.

Whatever the reasons, though there has been some progress, women are much less likely to pursue and hold MBA degrees. As reported by Fortune, the average enrollment of women in full-time MBA programs at 36 business schools climbed from 32% to 36% between 2011 and 2015. The Economist points to it’s own rankings of business schools and finds an average female of enrollment of 30% in their list of 100 business schools. This compares to the near-parity women have achieved in law schools and medical schools across America.

According to the Forte Foundation, these low MBA enrollment numbers are concerning because of the high ROI of an MBA. They report that an MBA degree is key to increasing your salary by 35-40% at graduation, 55-65% of your pre-MBA salary within 5 years, and an increase of $3 million in earnings over the course of your lifetime.

Last week, however, a study suggests that women on average face a slightly different risk-reward decision than men considering an MBA degree. That study by the Graduate Management Admissions Council (GMAC) found that women who pursue an MBA degree earn approximately $400,000 less over their careers than men with MBA degrees. In a salary analysis comprising over 14,000 business school alumni, the salary gap between male and female MBAs starts immediately after graduation and increases as the alumni move up in their careers to executive-level roles.

Female alums of MBA programs earn 80% (or $165,000) compared to what male alums earn ($205,000) by the time they are in executive-level roles. And they also lag behind in the number of women who hold those roles, with female MBAs holding half the number of executive level roles compared to male MBAs and only one quarter of C-suite jobs, according to analysis by Fortune. While those salary levels may be the envy of most Americans, with MBA degrees paying off handsomely whatever your gender, clearly some alumni are better off than others. Equal pay and the average gender pay gap affects even the relatively few women holding Masters of Business degrees.

While personal choices, industry and other professional choices may account for some of the gender pay gap among holders of MBA degrees, the source of the gender pay gap in professional sports is quite different. In both women’s and men’s versions of the same sports, people are clearly working in the same industry, and playing in parallel positions for parallel awards. These parallels may be why last week, 5 U.S. Women’s National Team members filed a headline-making federal complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (the agency charged with enforcing equal pay laws and which recently upped the ante on employers' gender pay disclosures) charging wage discrimination. These 5 U.S. women’s soccer players and their lawyers argue hat they were paid nearly four times less than what their male counterparts earned, despite producing higher revenues for the U.S. Soccer organization. Earlier in April, when the U.S. Women’s National team win the World Cup, they were paid $2 million in prize money. The U.S. Men’s National Team was awarded $8 million for reaching the round of 16, while the German men who won the World Cup earned $35 million.

There are some that argue that comparing the prize money that goes to women’s soccer relative to men’s is unfair since the revenue underwriting the prize money is funded by the international FIFA organization, which earns a majority of it’s funding from media sponsorships. Sponsorships, in turn, are disproportionately devoted to men’s sports for the much larger audiences they draw.

In response, some argue that it’s unclear to what extent these lower audiences for women’s sports and soccer are a self-fulfilling prophecy. As this ThinkProgress analysis points out, interest in women’s soccer has been growing for 25 years whereas the quality and quantity of women’s sports coverage and investment in marketing women’s sports by FIFA has not been commensurate. Moreover, there is no rule that says prize money is related directly to revenue-generated on a per event basis (and even if there were such a rule, in this case the U.S. Women’s team players pointed out they out-performed the Men’s Team on that basis). 26.7 million Americans tuned in to watch the women’s World Cup finale, a record number of viewers in the U.S. for any soccer game broadcast in America. It’s a startling reminder that women who go to work in very different places and with very different backgrounds can and still do face many of the same issues with equal pay. 


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