The Gender Wage Gap and The Ratio of Male Medals To Female Medals: A Counterintuitive Relationship

by JB

My last post had to do with the surprisingly negative relationship between income inequality and the ratio of male medals to female medals (one would expect that as income inequality increases that the ratio of male medals to female medals would increase…but the opposite occurs).

I decided to explore this further by looking at gender wage gaps (data link here) — the difference between the median male wage and the median female wage — and their relationship to the ratio of male medals to female medals (data from the Beijing Olympics).

We would expect that the greater the gender wage gap, the greater the number of male medals relative to the number of female medals.

Why would this be expected?

While the gender wage gap is universal (i.e. in basically every country men make more than women) the variations in this gap are of interest. Basically, not every country has the same level of gender discrimination so we should see differing levels of gender discrimination reflected in the differing levels of the gender wage gap. Countries with greater discrimination should have higher gender wage gaps while countries with lower discrimination should have lower gender wage gaps. And we would expect that countries with greater gender discrimination to have more male medals than female medals.

Instead, what I find is counterintuitive: the greater the gender wage gap, the smaller the ratio of male medals to female medals.

The only explanation that came to mind was that in countries with large gender wage gaps, there is less opportunity cost for being a female Olympic athlete (i.e. there aren’t a lot of high paying jobs that potential female Olympic athletes could have had) so these countries can attract more of the best female athletes. Meanwhile, there is greater opportunity cost for being a male athlete as there are more higher paying jobs that one could have had, so these countries lose some of their best male athletes to really high paying jobs. Thus, the relative strength of the female Olympians, relative to their international competition, is greater than the relative strength of the male Olympians. Hence, the female Olympians garner more medals than their male counterparts.

What do you think?

JB

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