by Neena Chaudhry, Senior Counsel,
National Women’s Law Center 

As we watch the Olympics, we can’t help but marvel at the athletic abilities of the world’s athletes. But for most young men and women, participating in sports will not lead to an Olympic medal. It will, however, lead to other great and long-lasting effects in the form of greater educational, work and health outcomes. Those are the findings of two separate studies by economists that are profiled in the New York Times.

According to the article, the studies confirm that the benefits of sports that many of us have long touted—better grades, higher self-esteem, and lower teenage pregnancy rates—are a direct result of participating in sports. More specifically, one of the studies isolates the variable of sports participation from other factors such as school size and social and personal factors and demonstrates that Title IX, which led to a tremendous increase in girls’ sports participation, has had a direct effect on women’s education and employment. Another study shows that the increase in girls’ sports participation caused by Title IX was associated with a 7 percent lower risk of obesity 20 to 25 years later for girls who were in high school in the 1970s. 

These studies confirm much of what we already know: that playing sports is good for our bodies and minds and that Title IX has opened the door for girls and women to reap these benefits too. But we also know that Title IX’s promise is not yet a reality. Young women receive only about 41% of the opportunities to play sports in high school and college and are not treated equally in terms of the benefits and services they receive when they do play. As President Obama said in his statement on National Girls and Women in Sports Day, which we celebrated earlier this month: “Women compete at all levels today, in large part due to the foundation laid by Title IX, which has done much to advance the number of women taking part in collegiate athletic programs and has increased access to the classroom. Today, as we celebrate, we must also recognize that more needs to be done and we should recommit ourselves to achieving true equality for all.” 

One way to move closer towards true equality is by requiring high schools to publicly disclose gender equity information about their sports programs (e.g., the numbers of girls and boys on teams and expenditures by team for certain categories like equipment and travel). Federal law requires colleges to make such data publicly available, but high schools do not have to, which makes it harder for communities to ensure that their schools are treating males and females equally. Bipartisan bills have been introduced in both houses of Congress, and you can voice your support for them through our website. The studies highlighted above reaffirm how much is at stake.