I'm leaving out some sports that are really only for the very highest end in terms of making money like track and field and marathon runners. In most of the sports listed below, dozens to hundreds of women athletes make very nice salaries annually. Some women are getting fabulously wealthy playing sports for a living.
Salaries women can earn playing professional sports in 2014
By far, women can earn the most money overall playing tennis professionally if they are good enough. Maria Sharapova earned $29 million in 2013, and Serena Williams earned over $20 million last year, and seven of the 10 highest paid women athletes in 2013 were tennis players.
Those salaries are not just the best among women, but they are among the highest salaries any professional athletes, men or women, earn. You don't have to be Maria Sharapova or Serena Williams to make a nice salary in tennis.
A women tennis player who is good enough to make just the second round at each of the four majors would earn around $200,000 a year just from those four tournaments. Add in all the other tournaments, and high six figure to million dollars salaries for women tennis players are very realistic for the top 100 to 200 players.
The woman athlete with the 10th highest salary in sports in 2013 was LPGA golfer Paula Creamer. Paula Creamer earned $5.5 million in salary last year. Unlike in tennis where men and women are usually paid the same in prize money, women golfers are competing for prize money that is dwarfed by PGA players.
Most PGA tournaments will pay the winner over $1 million, while most LPGA events pay their winners one-quarter to one-third that amount ($200,000 to $300,000). The top women players make millions from prize money alone, and then make more money each year from endorsements.
In 2013, the top 85 women on the LPGA Tour made over $100,000. A women really has to be in the top 100 to make a decent salary and living in golf.
Top women basketball players in the WNBA can make a little over $100,000. At the bottom end, WNBA players are guaranteed to make almost $40,000 a year, with a league average of around $70,000. And that is for playing less than half a year.
The best women basketball players go overseas during the WNBA off season and make even more money playing in Europe, Russia, and Australia. Top players can earn high six figures and sometimes even $1 million in salary playing overseas, in addition to the WNBA income. At the bottom end, players can make around $40,000 in additional income playing overseas.
Soccer salaries for women are really all over the place. Alex Morgan has made $1 million in a year, but that is pretty rare for women soccer players. The average player in the NWSL in the United States makes just $6,000 to $30,000 in a year in salary.
Top women soccer players can make a lot more than that playing in Europe. Megan Rapinoe makes $14,000 a month playing for Lyon in France. From April of 2012 to March of 2013, the three highest salary women's soccer players playing for the United States national team were Alex Morgan ($282,564), Becky Sauerbrunn ($274,871), and Christie Rampone ($272,913).
Alex Morgan made over $1 million when you add in her endorsement money. Overall, though, soccer is not the road to riches for professional women athletes unless they are at the top.
A number of women skiers have earned over $1 million in salary in a year. Lindsey Vonn has made many millions a year ever since she won an Olympic gold medal. Torah Bright, Lindsey Jacobellis, Gretchen Bleiler, Hannah Teeter, and Maria Holf-Riesch have all made $1 million in a year.
I'd bet good money that Mikaela Shiffrin, who won a gold medal for Team USA at the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi in the slalom, will make over $1 million this year. I'm ranking skiing fifth because you have to be a top skier to earn big money, and not that many women make a lot of money as skiers.
I don't think beach volleyball players make the same amounts of money they did just a few years ago, but Kerri Walsh and Misty May-Treanor both have over $2 million in career earnings. That does not include endorsement money.
For most women, though, volleyball is not the road to riches. On a personal note, my cousin is on the Polish National women's volleyball team.