The Participation Gap

I had never considered that there could be a link between a parent’s level of education and a child’s participation in sports. I should have. It makes sense. Closing the Gap in Access to Summer Camp and Extracurricular Activities finds that there is a connection and that we need to figure out how to deal with it. And it’s not just sports. It’s summer camps, trips to the zoo, after-school extracurriculars, and other enrichment programs.

This graphic illustrates the problem in sports. There is a 50% increase in the participation of children 6 to 11 years old in sports if the parent has an advanced degree v. some amount of college education.

And the numbers are similar for clubs and various kinds of lessons. (Like piano lessons.)

Why should we care? As the author points out:

A growing body of research attests to the positive impact of participation in extracurricular and enrichment activities. The evidence is particularly strong for high school athletics, where a handful of studies have been able to establish a causal link between participation and positive long-term outcomes. The most prominent is a brilliant analysis by Betsey Stevenson that examines the impact of Title IX on girls’ participation in high school sports, finding a significant increase in college going and labor force participation. A trove of correlational studies have also demonstrated benefits for high school athletes, including higher grades, increased graduation and college completion rates, and a decrease in various antisocial behaviors. There are similar results for students who participate in other extracurricular activities, such as clubs, especially if they play leadership roles or are deeply committed.

So it is incumbent on those of us that recognize the positive impact sports and other extracurricular activities can have to help get more kids involved. Supporting scholarship programs is one way. Helping to limit the financial barriers to entry for families is another. But outreach is also important.

We need to let parents of all educational levels know the positive impact sports can have. We need to make sure our political leaders understand that sports is not an extravagance – it can and should be an important part of a child’s education.

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