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The gender gap in school sports participation generally declined among eighth-, tenth-, and twelfth-grade students, from 1991 to 2004. However, since then, the gap has increased among twelfth-graders, and remained steady among eighth- and tenth-graders.

Importance

School athletic teams provide enjoyable, supervised activities for youth. Student athletes report healthier eating habits, higher levels of cardiovascular fitness, increased parental support, and decreased anxiety and depression.[1],[2],[3] Furthermore, a national study from 2000 showed a positive association between participating in school sports and lower rates of tobacco, drug, and alcohol use.[4]  Youth who participate in sports were also more likely to disapprove of their peers’ substance abuse.[5]

In addition, participating in sports is associated with higher levels of self-esteem, motivation, and overall psychological
well-being, and better body image for girls.[6] A study conducted with Los Angeles County schools found that juvenile arrest rates and teen birth rates were lower in areas where schools offered more sports, even after controlling for demographics.[7]
Not all research efforts, however, have found these positive relationships for all groups of youth. For example, studies have reported higher rates of substance use among white male and black female athletes, as well as among males involved in male-dominated sports (e.g., football), and among females involved in out-of-school, mixed-gender sports (e.g., skateboarding, dance). [8],[9],[10]

Participation in athletics has a positive association with academic achievement. Studies have shown that high school athletes have higher grades than non-athletes, lower absentee levels, a significantly smaller percentage of discipline referrals, lower percentages of dropouts, and higher graduation rates. [11],[12]

Some reports find that children’s overall participation in sports (both in and out of school) has declined since the recent economic recession,[13] but the data used here do not show such declines among students in middle and high schools.

Trends

37_fig1Trends in athletics participation vary by grade level. Among eighth-graders, participation remained steady between 1991 and 2001, fluctuating between 67 and 70 percent. Participation fell from 69 to 62 percent between 2001 and 2007, increased to 66 percent in 2012, and declined slightly in 2013, to 64 percent. Tenth-grade athletic participation during this time was fairly steady, ranging from 60 to 64 percent. Among twelfth-graders, participation decreased slightly between 1991 and 2003, from 56 to 53 percent, increasing to 59 percent in 2013. (Figure 1)

Differences by Gender

37_fig2Historically, males have participated in school athletics at higher rates than females. However, since 1991, the earliest year for which we have data, the gender gap has declined for eighth-, tenth-, and twelfth-graders. The gap in 2013 was greatest among twelfth-grade students (14 percentage points), though this seems to be driven by recent increases in males’ participation, rather than by falling participation by females. Although the gap among tenth-graders has declined by more than half, from 17 to 8 percentage points, since 2000 the gap has held generally steady. The smallest gap is among eighth-graders: four percentage points in 2013. While the eighth-grade gender gap was smaller than in was in 1991 (seven percentage points), most of this decrease occurred between 1991 and 1997. (Appendix 1, Figure 2)

Differences by Parental Education

37_fig3Teens with more-educated parents are more likely to participate in school sports than those whose parents completed fewer years of school. For example, among tenth-grade students, 43 percent of those whose parents did not complete high school participated in school sports in 2013, compared with 75 percent of those with a parent who had attended graduate school. Among twelfth-graders, these distinctions are less clear. (Figure 3)

Differences by College Plans

37_fig4Youth who say that they plan to complete four years of college are more likely than other youth to participate in school athletics. For example, in 2013, 62 percent of twelfth-graders who planned to complete four years of college participated in school athletics, compared with 45 percent of twelfth-grade students who did not have such plans. (Figure 4)

State and Local Estimates

2013 estimates for high school student participation in any sports teams (including those outside of school) are available for selected states and cities from the Youth Risk Behavior Survey (YRBS).

International Estimates

Though there are no available international estimates of school sports participation, there are estimates for physical exercise available from the Health Behavior in School-aged Children study. (See Chapter 2, Section 3)

National Goals

The Healthy People 2020 initiative includes three goals directly related to increasing physical exercise among children and adolescents, as well as several related goals such as increasing the number of schools that offer daily recess and increasing the proportion of schools and adolescents that have daily physical education.

Additional information is available here.

Related Indicators

Definition

Participation in school athletics includes all students who have participated to any degree in school athletic teams during the current school year.

Data Source

Child Trends original analysis of Monitoring the Future survey data, 1991 to 2013.

Raw Data Source

Bachman, Jerald G., Lloyd D. Johnston, and Patrick M. O’Malley. Monitoring the Future: A Continuing Study of American Youth (8th, 10th, and 12th-Grade Surveys), 1976-2011 [Computer files]. Conducted by University of Michigan, Survey Research Center. ICPSR ed. Ann Arbor, MI: Inter-university Consortium for Political and Social Research [producer and distributor].

ICPSR: http://www.icpsr.umich.edu/

Monitoring the
Future: http://www.monitoringthefuture.org/

Appendix 1 – Percentage of Students Participating in School Athletics: Selected Years, 1991-2013

1991 1995 1996 1997 1998 1999 2000 2001 2002 2003 2004 2005 2006 2007 2008 2009 2010 2011 2012 2013
Eighth Grade 69.6 68.1 67.4 66.7 68.7 67.7 67.3 69.1 67.2 65.3 65.7 64.1 63.4 62.4 64.0 64.2 63.7 66.1 66.4 63.8
Gender
Male 73.4 72.5 69.8 68.0 71.7 69.0 69.2 70.8 68.3 68.0 66.6 66.0 65.4 64.7 66.0 67.5 67.0 68.0 66.6 65.9
Female 66.2 64.3 65.6 65.5 65.8 66.6 65.8 67.5 66.1 62.9 64.9 62.6 62.0 60.5 62.6 61.7 60.9 64.1 66.3 61.6
Race
White 71.1 69.5 70.7 70.1 71.2 70.0 70.2 72.6 71.9 67.5 68.0 67.4 66.1 65.5 69.4 67.9 68.0 70.0 70.9 66.5
Black 73.8 69.7 64.5 63.0 64.9 69.5 63.4 67.3 65.9 67.2 64.5 60.6 60.5 62.2 61.8 64.5 63.0 60.4 67.5 65.6
Hispanic 56.9 54.8 58.8 57.7 54.1
Parental Education1
Less than
high school
54.3 50.5 53.4 52.3 53.0 55.0 47.5 53.3 55.5 51.3 48.8 45.3 46.7 45.9 47.3 50.5 51.1 53.6 50.2 48.7
Completed
high school
66.1 64.8 64.2 61.5 63.0 63.3 64.3 64.1 63.0 64.4 58.1 57.9 58.8 57.1 58.4 60.6 56.3 60.4 58.2 58.9
Some
college
73.3 73.8 69.4 70.5 70.2 69.6 69.8 69.1 66.8 65.0 67.0 63.8 66.0 66.4 64.4 66.6 66.7 67.2 67.5 64.8
Completed
college
73.6 71.3 75.3 71.6 74.0 74.1 74.0 77.0 72.5 69.7 74.0 72.9 69.8 68.2 71.1 69.9 69.9 74.2 73.1 68.9
Graduate
school
76.6 74.9 77.7 74.8 76.6 75.4 75.8 78.7 76.9 76.2 74.8 76.5 73.2 73.9 74.2 72.9 76.0 74.0 76.7 74.6
College Plans
None or under 4 years 49.9 51.3 50.5 50.2 49.4 46.8 46.8 46.5 49.0 41.4 45.7 39.3 43.8 40.0 42.9 45.0 36.9 44.7 43.0 46.4
Complete four years 72.7 70.3 70.0 68.9 70.9 70.2 69.5 71.6 68.7 67.8 67.9 66.8 65.4 64.2 65.9 65.7 66.1 67.8 67.7 64.6
1991 1995 1996 1997 1998 1999 2000 2001 2002 2003 2004 2005 2006 2007 2008 2009 2010 2011 2012 2013
Tenth Grade 60.2 62.6 61.5 61.7 61.6 62.2 61.5 62.9 61.1 60.2 61.1 60.4 62.7 64.0 60.3 59.5 59.7 62.2 62.6 61.0
Gender
Male 68.7 68.2 65.5 66.0 67.8 68.1 65.5 66.3 64.3 63.4 65.5 65.5 67.4 64.2 64.3 64.4 64.3 67.5 65.1 65.1
Female 51.9 57.5 57.7 57.5 56.1 57.4 58.3 60.0 57.8 57.0 57.2 55.6 58.3 55.8 56.7 55.1 55.5 57.6 60.6 57.5
Race
White 61.8 63.6 63.5 63.3 63.6 65.4 63.8 65.2 62.8 62.8 64.3 63.3 65.6 69.4 63.3 62.6 62.2 63.5 65.4 64.0
Black 55.7 62.3 56.5 62.5 58.8 57.2 55.7 60.9 64.8 58.5 57.0 59.1 56.5 61.8 62.5 60.7 59.4 60.3 62.0 60.6
Hispanic 51.2 54.3 57.3 52.6 52.0
Parental Education1
Less than
high school
44.5 40.9 42.7 44.2 46.7 44.0 45.9 48.3 40.2 44.0 42.0 42.9 43.1 47.3 43.7 41.1 47.4 48.5 45.5 42.7
Completed
high school
54.4 54.3 53.7 56.3 53.6 54.0 51.7 56.5 54.7 50.9 54.2 53.5 52.5 58.4 53.5 52.6 50.9 54.5 54.2 52.9
Some
college
59.8 62.6 62.4 60.5 64.7 65.2 61.4 63.0 60.9 61.8 60.8 59.6 62.2 64.4 60.7 61.3 59.5 62.0 63.1 61.1
Completed
college
67.2 71.8 68.3 68.8 68.1 70.0 69.9 68.9 70.6 66.4 67.7 66.8 70.9 71.1 66.7 65.7 67.8 69.1 68.9 68.5
Graduate
school
70.9 74.9 73.5 72.7 72.9 71.9 75.9 75.5 72.0 74.4 73.0 72.5 74.4 74.2 71.7 69.6 71.4 74.8 72.4 75.3
College Plans
None or under 4 years 38.9 39.9 40.3 42.0 45.5 39.0 39.4 41.1 37.5 40.6 38.6 37.6 38.8 42.9 36.7 39.6 43.3 39.1 33.1 32.8
Complete four years 64.6 66.2 65.1 64.8 64.4 66.0 65.0 66.4 64.9 63.1 64.0 63.4 65.7 65.9 62.9 61.7 61.8 64.9 64.8 63.1
1991 1995 1996 1997 1998 1999 2000 2001 2002 2003 2004 2005 2006 2007 2008 2009 2010 2011 2012 2013
Twelfth Grade 56.2 55.1 55.1 55.5 55.9 54.3 55.0 55.0 54.0 53.3 54.8 56.3 54.3 53.8 55.3 54.6 55.6 56.2 57.7 58.5
Gender
Male 64.9 62.4 62.7 63.4 63.0 62.3 64.2 61.9 60.2 58.9 59.5 61.7 58.7 57.5 62.5 60.6 60.6 60.9 62.4 65.5
Female 47.0 48.1 48.0 48.4 48.7 47.3 46.9 48.6 48.7 48.0 51.3 51.0 50.1 50.2 48.8 49.3 51.2 50.9 52.6 51.9
Race
White 57.0 54.9 56.8 56.3 57.7 56.5 57.4 57.5 56.3 55.4 56.5 56.9 55.4 55.3 58.0 56.3 57.7 57.1 58.4 59.2
Black 56.2 56.7 53.1 52.9 54.1 50.1 55.4 57.9 48.4 50.5 53.2 64.1 59.2 57.9 56.6 60.3 56.5 57.0 61.3 58.8
Hispanic 47.8 50.1 53.3 53.2 52.8
Parental Education1
Less than
high school
41.3 38.7 35.3 37.2 41.3 43.5 33.2 38.0 39.7 42.6 41.9 45.2 48.4 39.5 40.7 42.5 47.3 46.6 46.1 46.7
Completed
high school
50.3 48.4 50.1 50.2 52.5 49.5 53.5 50.1 47.0 49.1 48.5 52.7 49.7 48.0 48.4 47.3 49.9 51.3 51.7 54.0
Some
college
60.3 53.2 54.3 55.5 57.4 54.6 56.8 56.1 53.3 51.5 55.0 55.6 52.3 52.5 56.4 56.4 54.5 55.9 58.2 55.3
Completed
college
61.7 62.2 62.1 60.6 59.1 57.3 58.6 62.1 62.1 57.8 60.8 59.6 58.9 60.6 60.5 60.5 61.5 59.3 61.9 68.4
Graduate
school
66.4 68.0 64.6 66.7 66.2 65.8 63.0 63.5 62.6 66.7 63.8 63.4 64.0 64.2 67.4 66.8 66.7 69.7 68.2 67.0
College Plans
None or under 4 years 42.6 41.2 41.6 39.8 42.2 43.3 42.0 40.7 41.6 40.9 40.2 43.6 44.0 40.1 42.7 41.1 45.9 41.3 43.2 45.4
Complete four years 61.5 58.8 59.0 60.3 59.9 57.8 58.4 58.8 57.7 56.2 58.8 59.0 56.8 56.9 58.1 57.3 57.5 58.9 60.4 61.6
1 Parental education is calculated by the Institute of Social Research as the average of the mother’s and father’s education. Child Trends has relabeled these results to reflect the education level of the most educated parent. In those circumstances where the gap between mothers’ and fathers’ education is more than one level, this results in an underestimate of the most educated parent’s education level.

Source: Original analysis by Child Trends of Monitoring the Future data, 1991-2013.

Endnotes


[1]Harrison, P. A., Narayan, G. (2003).Differences in behavior, psychological factors, and environmental factors associated with participation inschoolsportsand other activities in adolescence.Journal of School Health, 73(3). Abstract available at: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/entrez/query.fcgi?cmd=Retrieve&db=PubMed&list_uids=12677730&dopt=Abstract.

[2]Action for Healthy Kids. (2004). The learning connection: The value of improving nutrition and physical activity in our schools. Executive Summary. Available online: http://www.actionforhealthykids.org/special_exclusive.php

[3]Beets, M.W., Pitetti, K.H. (2005). Contribution of physical education and sport to health-related fitness in high school students. Journal of School Health75(1). pp. 25-30.

[4]Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. (2001). Summary of findings from the 2000 national household survey on drug abuse (NHSDA Series: H-13, DHHS Publication No. SMA 01-3549). Rockville, MD: Author.
Available online: http://www.oas.samhsa.gov/NHSDA/2kNHSDA/2kNHSDA.htm

[5]Ibid.

[6]Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Facts on sports and smoke free youth. Available: http://www.cdc.gov/tobacco/research_data/youth/ythsprt1.htm; American Psychological Association.

[7]Cohen, D.A., Taylor, S.L., Zonta, M., Vestal, K.D., Schuster, M.A. (2007). Availability of high school extracurricular sports programs and high risk behaviors. Journal of School Health. 77. 80-86.

[8]Taylor, M.J. (2001). Sports participation, delinquency, and substance use among rural African American girls. Paper presented at the annual convention of the American Psychological Association, San Francisco, CA. Abstract available
online: http://www.apa.org/releases/sportinvolvement.html

[9]Moore, M. J., Werch, C. E. (2005). Sport and physical activity participation and substance use among adolescents. Journal of Adolescent Health. 36 (6). 486-493.

[10]Eitle, D., Turner, R. J., Eitle, T. M. (2003). The deterrence hypothesis reexamined: Sports participation and substance use among young adults.Journal of Drug Issues.33(1), 193-222.

[11]Whitley, R. L. (1999). Those ‘dumb jocks’ are at it again: A comparison of the educational performances of athletes and nonathletes in North Carolina high schools from 1993 through 1996. High School Journal.82(4), 223-233.

[12]Jergovic, Diana. (2001).The impact of athletic participation on the academic achievement of American adolescents. Dissertation Abstracts International: Section B: The Sciences and Engineering. 62(1-B), 576.

[13]Rosenwald, M. S. (2015). Are parents ruining youth sports? Fewer kids play amid pressure. Washington Post, October, 4, 2015. https://www.washingtonpost.com/local/are-parents-ruining-youth-sports-fewer-kids-play-amid-pressure/2015/10/04/eb1460dc-686e-11e5-9ef3-fde182507eac_story.html

 

Suggested Citation:

Child Trends Databank. (2015). Participation in school athletics. Available at: https://www.childtrends.org/?indicators=participation-in-school-athletics

 

Last updated: October 2015