On Title IX’s 40th Birthday, Gender Gap Persists

On June 23, 1972, President Nixon signed into law Title IX, which which prohibits gender discrimination in any federally financed education program or activity.

These 37 words permanently changed the landscape of sports, and their effects have been enormous and far-reaching:

“No person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving federal financial assistance.”

Notice that this law was not just about sports, but about gender discrimination across the board in public education.

Since 1972, not only are more girls than ever are playing sports, but they are also taking advanced classes in STEM subjects (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics). Pregnant and parenting students have more educational opportunities.

Biggest Victory For Title IX

Still, even though sports was not the focus of this act, maybe the biggest victory for Title IX has been opening up athletic opportunities for millions more girls each year. Title IX has made sports go from “a freakishly rare part of girlhood to an absolutely typical part of girlhood,” said Deborah Brake, a professor of law at the University of Pittsburgh.

From Education Week:

In 1971-72, the school year leading up to the passage of Title IX, 294,015 girls took part in high school sports, compared with nearly 3.7 million boys, according to the National Federation of State High School Associations, or about 3.4 million more boys than girls.

Fast forward to 2010-11, which yields the most recent available data, and that gap shrinks by more than 2 million, with nearly 4.5 million boys and 3.2 million girls participating in high school sports.

These are enormous gains.

But at the same time, there remains a 1.3 million student gender gap in high school sports, and the number of female athletes in the 2010-11 school year does not even match the number of male athletes from 1971-72, even though girls make up around 49% of the overall high school student population.

That’s why many experts say, and the data confirm, that gender equality has yet to be achieved.

High School Football Inherently Gender-Biased

One big reason is high school football.  In the 2010-11 school year, roughly 1.1 million high school boys took part in football, while only 1,395 girls did, according to the National Federation of State High School Associations.

At the same time, football is of pre-eminent importance at every public high school where I’ve taught over the past 25 years. Football players are heroes; football games get the booster clubs, all the money, and the best facilities; football games are scheduled for prime time and Friday nights, while girls’ sports must make do with weeknights.

The tough guys at the football game are of course supported by the cheerleaders, the pretty dancing girls, hardly an advertisement for Title IX – although any one who’s been around cheerleading training knows that those coaches are ruthless, and becoming a cheerleader is extremely physically demanding.

The culture of high school football, which came as a shock to me when I moved from the UK, where it doesn’t exist, is a major reason for the persistence of a gender gap, at least in high school sports.

So while it is undeniably true that Title IX has had a huge impact, there is still much more to be done. I look forward to the future!

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Five Reasons To Celebrate Title IX’s Birthday

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Photo Credit: elmsdweb


Duane B.
.5 years ago

Thank you for sharing.

Marc B.
Marc B5 years ago

I just think about another gender gap - the gender age gap. Men die years before women.

alex l.
alex l6 years ago

Steve R
boys have always been allowed in cheerleading. you might want to check it out.
and the lack of millions of dollars for women and girl's sports, of any kind, doesn't come from "not liking sports".

but if you are a hardline misogynist i guess you wouldn't have the mental capacity for understanding that.

Steve R.
Steve R6 years ago

Tsk, tsk! That darn gender gap!

I'm going to have to complain about my grandsons not being allowed to be cheerleaders!

Maybe, just maybe, there are some sports that girls just don't like very much, and some sports that boys just don't like very much.

But - if you're a hard line feminist, I guess it's hard to understand....

alex l.
alex l6 years ago

to those saying "girls are not as interested" - bollocks!!

girls love playing, and yet many are told it isn't feminine, or ladylike, or nice....or whatever.

good grief, next you will be excusing pay inequity by saying that women don't want money as much.

alex l.
alex l6 years ago

how would you know?
have you ever watched the women's hockey team? the women's football team?
guess why?

stop apologising for outright discrimination.
"not as interesting" - my butt!

John Mansky
John Mansky6 years ago

Sports are a good leisure activity,but should not become prominent...

Tamara H.
Tamara H6 years ago

Get over it! There is no way I'm ever going to watch as many girls sports as mens...unless I have a kid playing! There is no way football, baseball, basketball, etc. would be as interesting to watch played by the girls. It's really only in a few sports that female intensity is as engaging as the mens. Tennis is a good example. [BTW, I am female and have a daughter.]

But here's the rub. Why are the schools getting ANY federal dollars for sports? It should be ZERO. Young people should participate in sports for love of the activity not because the school recruits them to compete. I doubt any kid has loved baseball as much as when (s)he played it on the sandlot sans adults.

Brian Steele
Brian Steele6 years ago

Surely, as sport participation is voluntary and interest in taking part may differ between boys and girls, a much more telling statistic would be the numbers who want to participate but are denied. Perhaps the difference in participation now is down to the number wanting to take part. Of course, that may not be the case, but we have no way of knowing. After all, as a broadly valid gender stereotype, boys assert their masculinity in sporting prowess more than girls assert their femininity.

In terms also of how many are involved in teams, while I appreciate that girls can presumably play American Football too, I think that many boys' sports have larger teams than girls' sports. If you field a boys' football team and a girls' softball team, for instance, then you need more boys than girls. That might deny some girls if you only put one team of each out, but it does at least suggest a reason why more boys than girls are involved in representative sport.

ii q.
g d c6 years ago

this is a surpirse?