Title IX: Not Equal for All

Title IX

It has been 43 years since the inception of Title IX, a law which has enabled huge advances in the struggle to gain equal funding and opportunities for both sexes within federally funded programs. While the legislation covers all educational activities, it has most typically been applied with regard to men’s and women’s athletics.

To be sure, Title IX has changed the lives of millions of women by providing them with access to athletics, but millions more have fallen through the cracks due to societal conditions and inequalities that Title IX didn’t take into account.

For example, schools with high concentrations of minority and low-income students tend to have fewer resources for extracurricular activities and larger gender disparities in sports participation than schools serving majority-white populations. To be more specific, girls at heavily minority high schools have only 67 percent of the number of athletic opportunities as minority boys, and only 39 percent of the opportunities as girls at suburban schools. I may not be great with numbers, but I’m pretty sure that’s not equal.  Title IX, the very law that was supposed to lift up girls, has left an extremely large group of them behind.

Why should we care? Studies show that participation in sports is a critical driver of earning power and professional status over time.  Former high-school athletes’ wages are between 5 and 15 percent higher than those of people who participated in other extracurricular activities, and they also go on to have higher-status careers than non-athletes. That’s why it is hardly surprising that 94 percent of executive women surveyed in an international Ernst & Young study participated in sports. Clearly, providing minority girls with equal access to athletics is essential for their future success – not to mention their long-term health.

Compounding the in-school problem is the fact that minority girls are also less likely than white girls to participate in sports outside of school. Neighborhoods where minorities are disproportionately concentrated have higher crime and traffic rates, and fewer public facilities (parks, fields, trails). These neighborhoods also tend to have lower household income levels, meaning there are fewer resources for funding community-based activities. The lack of opportunity for minority girls outside of school makes it all the more essential for public schools to get their Title IX act together and provide minority girls with the equal access to athletics they are entitled to by law.

But lackluster attention to Title IX isn’t confined to minority and low-income high schools. The fact is that over the past five years, the gap in male and female athletic participation at the high-school level has widened. Female high-school athletes receive 1.3 million fewer athletic participation opportunities than their male counterparts, and continue to lag behind males in the provision of equitable resources such as equipment, uniforms and facilities.

Currently, 4,500 public high-schools across the United States have large gender inequality in sports and could be in violation of Title IX – that’s one quarter of the country’s public high-schools.

After forty-three years, it’s time to take a critical look at Title IX and see what’s really going on beneath the headlines and on the nation’s courts and fields. The fact is that compared to boys, girls – minority girls in particular – are not on a level playing field and are not fully benefiting from the health, life skill, and career benefits proven to be associated with athletic participation.

– Lucie Dufour, Associate

Photo Credit: Finishing Last

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