Controversy recently spread to the Senate over men and women seemingly being paid differently for doing the same job. Sen. Elizabeth Warren sent a letter signed by 19 of her Democratic colleagues. These professionals “deserve fairness and respect” through equitable compensation, Warren wrote.
The industry in question? Modeling? The difference between how much women’s soccer players and male synchronized swimmers earn? No, she’s outraged that male hockey players earn more than female players do.
But we can learn a lot from studying how modeling works. The underlying reasons male and female athletes are paid differently are the same as the reasons female models are paid more than male models.
Female Models Easily Out-Earn Male Models
The top 10 female models in 2013 earned an average of $8.3 million. That’s more than ten times as much as the average elite male model earned that year. Five of the top 100 celebrities on the Forbes list were female models. None were men.
Is this some great travesty Warren should take up in Congress? Male and female models alike have to wear clothes and pose for pictures. They all have to stay in shape. Essentially, they do the same thing, in the same way that male and female hockey players do the same thing.
But does their work produce the same results? Not at all. As Robert H. Frank wrote in “The Economic Naturalist: Why Economics Explains Almost Everything,”
Since most clothing looks better on attractive people, manufacturers seek out the best-looking male and female models for their photo shoots. … Female models receive premium pay because women’s fashion is a vastly bigger business than men’s fashion. Women in the United States, for example, spend more than twice as much on clothing each year as men do, and the difference is even more pronounced in other countries.…
Widely read fashion magazines such as Vogue and Elle have enormous influence on women’s clothing and cosmetics purchases. … The value added by hiring a better-looking male model pales by comparison. Few men could even name a men’s fashion magazine, and fewer still read one.
Even if male models do roughly equitable work at their jobs, they aren’t adding equitably to the bottom line. “[W]orkers tend to be paid in rough proportion to the value they add to their employer’s bottom line.”
Men and Women’s Hockey Just Don’t Attract Equal Interest
Women’s sports just don’t attract eyeballs or earn revenue in proportion to men’s sports. Only four women’s college basketball teams earned more than $4 million in revenue in 2011, Forbes’s Chris Smith reported, compared to 86 men’s teams earning at that level.
The worst team for attendance in the NBA in 2014, the Milwaukee Bucks, had 4,000 higher attendance than that of the top team in the WNBA and almost twice as much as the WNBA league average.
The average attendance for the 2016-17 NHL season was 14,490, while the National Women’s Hockey League can’t even fill stadiums in the hundreds. The defending champs, Boston Pride, play in the Warrior Ice Arena, which holds 650, and players were offered bonuses of 100 percent of revenue for every ticket after just 500 were sold.
Yet the women’s hockey players are demanding $68,000 a year for USA Hockey, many times more than what they earn in the NWHL, which had to cut salaries halfway through the season because it was losing money. Team USA male players are NHL players, of course, who earn an average of $2.4 million a year, so they take a pay cut when they play for Team USA.
Men Are More Exciting to Watch Because They’re Stronger
Despite commissioner Adam Silver’s purported surprise at the WNBA’s failure to attract fans, there’s a simple reason he could have seen if he looked at objective reality instead of his feel-good PC reality. The strongest and most athletic women in the world just aren’t as strong as the strongest men. There’s a reason men and women compete in segregated leagues and feminists aren’t calling for the right to be tackled, checked, and punched into submission on equitable terms on the same playing field with men.
Compare any given world record—male versus female—in sports with objective measurements. It’s even a news story when a WNBA player dunks. The fact that male athletes are biologically more competitive than female athletes may be unfair—we don’t control how we are born—but it’s not any more so than the fact that some people are seven feet tall and some people aren’t, or the fact that women have more opportunities to earn money from their beauty.
A similar issue riled the women’s soccer team in 2016. Apparently the men playing for Team USA make more in bonuses than the women do. Heck, Time’s Kerry Close is even concerned that men and women in two completely separate leagues are paid differently. “The National Women’s Soccer League has a pay ceiling per player of just $37,800. That’s compared to an average of more than $300,000 and a median of about $100,000 for men’s Major League Soccer,” she wrote.
Just wait until she finds out that athletes in the NFL are paid more than both male and female soccer players. (“Despite playing fewer games!”)
It is neither the government’s, nor society’s, job to correct every possible inequity caused by random variation or individual preference. That we, as a society, value basketball over hockey and soccer, women’s fashion over men’s fashion, Justin Bieber over the Chicago Philharmonic—and yes, Sidney Crosby over the Boston Pride’s Hilary Knight—is not Elizabeth Warren’s concern.