Saturday, May 5, 2012

Title IX, Skiing, and the Atmospheric Sciences

"In 1972–73, the first school year under Title IX, more than 12 times more boys than girls played high school sports."

"Title IX's effects extend into the classroom and beyond: Research suggests that the legislation has contributed to the rise in the number of women who work full time and who have moved into formerly male-dominated occupations.
- Sports Illustrated, 7 May 2012

Forty years ago this June, Title IX became law.  The push to pass the legislation was spearheaded by Democratic Indiana Senator Birch Bayh and signed by Republican President Richard Nixon.  It survived numerous challenges following its passage and has played an important role in reducing (but unfortunately not eliminating) gender inequities in sports and education.  

The latest Sports Illustrated includes a comprehensive look at Title IX.  It's hard to believe, but as noted in the top quote, there were more than 12 times as many boys as girls playing high school sports in the early 1970s.  Having just attended my daughter's soccer game, I feel fortunate that things have improved. 

In skiing, which is dear to the hearts of the Wasatch Weather Weenies, the most dominant and compelling athlete today is Lindsey Vonn, pictured below with her 16 World Cup globes.  

Source: US Ski Team
ESPN reports that Vonn earned more prize money in 2011 ($612, 417) than Marcel Hirscher ($510,192), the top male skier, and she beat Hirscher again in 2012.  I haven't been able to confirm this for sure, but it appears that FIS World Cup prize money is gender neutral, providing the same amount per event whether it be a men's or women's race.  Title IX has no jurisdiction over the FIS, but it has contributed to changes in the US and elsewhere that have improved the opportunities for female athletes in general.  

Nevertheless, many challenges remain, not just in sports, but also in my field, atmospheric sciences.  According to a report by the Center to Advance Research and Teaching in the Social Sciences (CARTSS) at the University of Colorado at Boulder, in 2002, women earned 29% of the bachelor's degrees and 26% of the doctoral degrees in the atmospheric sciences, yet only 10% of the faculty in atmospheric sciences are women.  I suspect things have improved only marginally in the past decade.  This "leaky pipeline" reflects gender barriers that exist not only in the atmospheric sciences, but also other engineering and science disciplines.  Fixing this leaking pipeline would not only improve gender equity, but also create a more diverse and competitive scientific workforce for addressing the challenges of the 21st century.  


  1. There are problems with Title IX. For example, there are sports such as football that do not have women's teams. This is the reason there are more women's sports than men's sports at most universities and the sport of volleyball which I play is not available at most universities. Is it really equality when you try to make everything 50-50 participation? I acknowledge there are major inequality problems. All you have to do is look at men's and women's salaries for the same job. It is not fair and we as a society need to address that. It just seems like trying to get every field and every sport 50-50 can lead to discrimination when interest in a given academic discipline or sport is not split 50-50. Male and female brains, on average, are not the same. That's evolution 101. Should they get the same opportunities? Yes. Is that accomplished by making all jobs and all sports 50% male and 50% female? Definitely not.

  2. "This is the reason there are more women's sports than men's sports at most universities"

    A push to make things 50-50, by definition, cannot lead to there being more women's sports than men's sports.

  3. It depends on what you are making 50-50. For Title IX, this is essentially number of athletes. I don't have a problem with the original Title IX language per se, but rather the way that compliance is measured through a 3-part test. The first part of this test wants athletic participation proportionate to the student enrollment. Of course, this assumes interest is the same in men and women. I have a problem with this assumption because what we really want is the same opportunity for all people, but by setting quotas, you are discriminating if your assumption of equal interest is wrong. It is a lazy bureaucratic way to implement Title IX.

    The way that the first part of this 3-part test leads to more women's sports is that a football team has many more athletes than other sports and there is no women's football team to counter the male team. Hence, you need more women's teams to make up the difference.