Long after Title IX, girls still say ‘Put me in, coach’

U. MICHIGAN (US) — Opportunities for girls to participate in high school sports increased during the 1990s, but progress toward equality with boys slowed, and maybe even reversed direction, in the last decade.

Released today by the Sport, Health and Activity Research and Policy Center for Women and Girls (SHARP)—a collaboration between the University of Michigan and Women’s Sports Foundation—the report provides insight into the state of high school athletics and the inequalities in the US public school system, despite the passing of Title IX 40 years ago.


The Decade of Decline: Gender Equity in High School Sports” analyzes data from the Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights Data Collection on girls’ and boys’ high school athletic opportunities between the 1999-2000 and 2009-10 school years. Key findings include:

  • Athletic participation opportunities expanded across the decade, but boys’ allotment grew more than girls. By 2009-10, 53 athletic opportunities were offered for every 100 boys, compared with 41 opportunities for every 100 girls.
  • Despite the level of economic resources, the opportunity gap between girls and boys continued to increase. By 2010, girls participated in greater numbers than in the beginning of the decade, but their share of total athletic opportunities decreased across the decade compared to boys. During a decade of expanding athletic participation opportunities in US high schools, boys received more opportunities than girls, and boys’ opportunities grew faster than those of girls.
  • By 2009-10, boys still received disproportionately more athletic opportunities than girls in all community settings—urban, suburban, towns, and rural communities.
  • In 2000, 8.2 percent of schools offered no sports programs—and that percentage nearly doubled by 2010, rising to approximately 15 percent. Additionally, schools with disproportionately higher female enrollments (i.e., the student body is 56 percent female or higher) were more likely to have dropped interscholastic sports between 2000 and 2010.
  • Seven percent of public schools lost sports programs between 2000 and 2010, while less than 1 percent added sports to their curriculum. Given this trend in the data, it is estimated that by the year 2020, 27 percent of US public high schools (4,398 schools) would be without any interscholastic sports, translating to an estimated 3.4 million young Americans (1,658,046 girls and 1,798,782 boys) who would not have any school-based sports activities to participate in by 2020, if the trend continues.

“In the wake of the 2012 London Olympic and Paralympic Games, the state of women’s sports in the US has generated great praise, and many believe that girls and women have finally achieved athletic equality,” says Kathryn Olson, CEO of the Women’s Sports Foundation. “However, these findings suggest that we simply aren’t there yet. In fact, we are moving farther and farther away from equality with the cutting of interscholastic sports.”

Sports are an integral part of the educational experience, Olson says, and students who participate in sports are shown to achieve greater academic success.

“One of the priorities of the SHARP Center is to uncover trends in access to participation opportunities in sport and physical activities for women and girls,” says Kathy Babiak, SHARP co-director and associate professor of sport management at the School of Kinesiology.

“SHARP’s Decade of Decline report demonstrates through a rigorous analysis of longitudinal data that inequities still exist in opportunities and access to sport for girls in high school.”

Through this benchmark study, SHARP hopes to inform and educate policymakers on the importance of ensuring that athletic opportunities are readily available to youth at the high school level, she says.

The Women’s Sports Foundation worked with the National Women’s Law Center to create relevant, evidence-based policy recommendations based on the report’s findings:

  • The Office for Civil Rights should strengthen its enforcement of Title IX in secondary schools to ensure that girls receive equal opportunities to reap the many valuable benefits of playing sports.
  • Federal policymakers should require high schools to publicly disclose gender equity data about their athletics programs.
  • Urban schools, in particular, should redouble their efforts to increase the numbers of athletic opportunities that they provide to girls.
  • All schools should have Title IX coordinators and should regularly conduct Title IX self-evaluations to ensure that they are complying with the law.

The report was co-authored by SHARP director Don Sabo and postdoctoral fellow Philip Veliz.

Source: University of Michigan