40 years of Title IX: More female graduates, but still earning less

Last weekend was the 40th anniversary of Title IX, an Education Amendment that prohibits sex discrimination in federally-funded education programs – including admissions, curriculum, athletics, and even faculty and staff. While this law protects both males and females, it is most widely recognized for its role in increasing athletic opportunities for girls and women. Since 1972 when the legislation passed, female participation in sports has increased dramatically – by a factor of 10 at the high school level and six at the college level.

While playing sports is known to increase positive health outcomes, research also shows participation in school sports impacts academic and career outcomes. Namely, girls who play sports are more likely to attend college and participate in the labor force. Further, the importance of Title IX in women’s long-term economic security extends well beyond athletics. Title IX increases access to higher education, including career and technical programs, and increases opportunities to study math, science, technology and engineering – high-wage fields that continue to be dominated by men.

As a result of Title IX, the gender makeup of today’s higher education institutions is markedly different from that of four decades ago, with a higher proportion of women enrolled at schools across the country. Take the University of Washington’s Seattle campus, where women account for 52% of enrollment. In 2011, nearly half of medical school graduates in the U.S. were female. Here in Washington, more than half were female.

But we still have work to do in ensuring the educational experiences of girls and women put them on the path for lifelong economic stability. In Washington’s public schools, a large majority of teachers are women. Yet women are in the minority among administrators. Male coaches – not to mention athletes – continue to earn more and enjoy larger pay raises than their female counterparts. And although women are obtaining advanced degrees at higher rates, the wage gap persists.

Ultimately, Title IX is about leveling the playing field for everyone – boys and girls, women and men. Over time, educational opportunities have largely increased for girls and women, without sacrificing those of boys and men. Yet enforcement of the law remains a problem.

Forty years later, legal advocates still receive daily reports of inequitable distribution of funds between boys and girls programs. It’s not just about who gets to play in the nicer gym or practice at coveted times. Enforcing Title IX is about ensuring all kids have access to quality education programs that enable them to secure good jobs with living wages.

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