Increase in women's sports not due to Title IX

Posted: Jun 21, 2002 12:00 AM
This weekend marks the 30th anniversary of Title IX and, hopefully, the end of me screaming at the TV. As a policy geek and pundit, I'm used to yelling at C-Span or CNN the way some people yell at the Super Bowl. I've been known to exclaim things like, "That's not how Social Security works, ya moron!" on more than a few occasions. But watching my wife debate a coterie of feminists and professional liberals has been especially exasperating. The Missus, Jessica Gavora, is the author of "Tilting the Playing Field," a controversial book on Title IX, the 1972 civil rights statute that banned discrimination against women in education, which is, according to the entire establishment press and a zillion feminist lawyers, responsible for every soccer-playing girl in America. Jessica chronicles how Title IX has become a quota scheme for discriminating against male athletes. But what I want to tackle is a larger phenomenon: The seemingly boundless conviction that laws are magical. I've been astounded by how many people attribute the growth of women's sports solely to a law passed by Richard Nixon, as if women had virtually nothing to do with it. Susan Casey the managing editor of Sports Illustrated Women writes in Sports Illustrated about Title IX, "As laws go, it has been a success. In 1972, 1 in 27 high school girls participated in sports. That number has now risen more than tenfold, to 1 in 2.5." James Carville, famed scholar that he is, noted on CNN that in the last 30 years "women's participation in sports has increased 403 percent in college and 837 percent in high school. Who would have a problem with that?" Nobody. But it's also true that since G. Gordon Liddy broke into DNC headquarters 30 years ago, women's participation in sports increased 403 percent and lots of people have a problem with Watergate. Saying that Z happened after Y doesn't mean Y caused Z. Or, as we all remember from grade school, the rooster's crowing doesn't magically cause the sun to rise. Now, of course, the passage of Title IX was more relevant to the increase in sports opportunities for women than Watergate. But the point remains that simply touting the progress of women since the passage of a law does not demonstrate that the law was responsible. Author and social scientist Charles Murray has a neat trick he likes to play on those who believe laws magically change society. He calls it the "trendline test." He takes a law that is supposed to have improved society in some way. Then, he looks at how much improvement occurred before the law was passed and how much occurred after the law. Usually, the laws appear to be slowing the momentum of progress, not accelerating it. For example: the 55 miles-per-hour speed limit, first implemented in 1974, is widely credited with saving millions of lives over the last three decades. The problem is that automobile deaths started to improve in 1925 and the biggest gains occurred between 1934 and 1949. Dozens of allegedly landmark laws fail the trendline test. My favorite example is child labor. America banned child labor only after the practice was almost extinct. And yet, historians credit the banning of child labor as a huge victory for children, when it was almost entirely symbolic. Title IX fails the trendline test too. Yes, there have been important and valuable gains in women's sports since 1972, but there were more important and more valuable gains before 1972. For example, according to the NCAA, the number of women playing intercollegiate sports doubled from 1966 to 1971. Take Casey's specious statistic, which sounds like it came straight out of the talking points of feminist groups. What those talking points invariably leave out is that from 1971 to 1972 -the one year prior to the passage of Title IX where good data is available -the number of girls playing high school sports jumped from 1 in 27 to 1 in 9. And, even better, Title IX wasn't even federally enforced until 1979. It just sat there symbolically with no force of law. In effect, all of the gains in women's sports of the 1970s had nothing to do with Title IX either. When the Carter administration finally wrote the enforcement regulations for Title IX in December of 1979, 1 in 4 high school girls played sports -an increase of nearly 600 percent without any Title IX enforcement. In the two decades since, participation has increased by only 50 percent. Title IX was a good law. But it's absurd to credit it with a trend that preceded it and would have continued without it. Does anyone think that Billie Jean King wouldn't have beaten Bobby Riggs if Nixon hadn't signed Title IX? Tragically, it's a bad law now, hijacked by ideologues and reinterpreted to penalize tens of thousands of male athletes because of an unfair quota-scheme that creates not one new opportunity for women. That trendline is undeniable. But, again, you'll have to read about that elsewhere, hint, hint.