When the U.S. women's soccer team notched its fourth World Cup win Sunday in Lyon, France, the crowd engaged in an unusual and sustained celebratory chant: "equal pay."
The team's 2-0 victory over the Netherlands garnered strong TV ratings on Fox and tremendous social media buzz, demonstrating a popularity and success that their counterparts on the U.S. men's soccer team -- which has never won a World Cup title -- could only dream about.
But despite their on-field success, the female players make less money than their less-successful male counterparts, and are waging a legal battle against the U.S. Soccer Federation over the broader workplace issues of gender discrimination and unequal pay.
"At this moment of tremendous pride for America, the sad equation remains all too clear, and Americans won't stand for it anymore," Molly Levinson, a spokeswoman for female players in their equal pay lawsuit, said in a statement. "These athletes generate more revenue and garner higher TV ratings but get paid less simply because they are women. It is time for the Federation to correct this disparity once and for all."
The gender lawsuit against the nonprofit soccer federation -- which oversees and employs the U.S. national teams -- was filed in March in California federal court by 28 members of the women's team, including such World Cup stars as Alex Morgan, Megan Rapinoe and Carli Lloyd. It alleges the female players have been consistently paid less money than their male counterparts, even though the women's performance has been "superior."
While the compensation structures are very different, the lawsuit offers some side-by-side comparisons that show a stark gender discrepancy. For example, women who simply made the 2015 World Cup roster received $15,000 each, while men got $68,750 each in 2018, according to the lawsuit. The difference in potential performance bonuses is even more dramatic.
A spokesman for the Chicago-based federation did not respond to a request for comment Monday.
Experts say the gender pay gap is both complex and difficult to bridge. In 2018, women earned 85% of what men earned, according to a Pew Research Center study.
A June study by Payscale found that women's earnings peak much sooner than for men. The highest median annual salary for women was $66,700 at age 44, while men top out at $101,200 at age 55.
"It's complicated," said Claudia Goldin, an economics professor at Harvard University and an expert on the economic gender gap.