Participation in School Athletics

Publication Date:

Nov 05, 2018

Key facts about participation in school athletics

  • While overall rates of school athletics participation have remained fairly constant from 1991 to 2016, the gender gap generally declined among eighth, tenth, and twelfth graders during this period; for example, the gap decreased from 18 to 9 percentage points for twelfth graders over this period.
  • Hispanic students are less likely than non-Hispanic white or black students to participate in school athletics across all three grade levels; among tenth graders, 53 percent of Hispanic students participated in school athletics, compared with 62 and 61 percent of non-Hispanic white and black students, respectively.
  • Students who plan to graduate from a four-year college are more likely to participate in school athletics; in 2016, 59 percent of twelfth graders who planned to complete four years of college participated in school athletics, compared with 43 percent of twelfth graders who did not have such plans.

Trends in school athletics participation

Trends in the proportion of students participating to any degree in school athletic teams during the school year vary by grade level. Among eighth graders, participation remained steady from 1991 to 2001, fluctuating from 67 to 70 percent. Participation fell from 69 to 62 percent from 2001 to 2007, increased to 66 percent in 2012, and declined slightly in 2014 to 63 percent, where it remained in 2016. The rate of athletic participation among tenth graders was fairly constant during this time, ranging from 59 to 64 percent. Participation in school athletics among tenth graders was at 59 percent in 2016. Among twelfth graders, participation decreased slightly from 1991 to 2003, from 56 to 53 percent. The proportion increased to 58 percent in 2013, before falling to 56 percent in 2016 (Appendix 1).

Differences by gender

Historically, males have higher rates of participation in school athletics than females. However, since 1991, the earliest year for which data are available, the gender gap has declined for eighth, tenth, and twelfth graders. In 2016, the gap was greatest among twelfth-grade students (9 percentage points), a decline from 18 percentage points in 1991. The recent decline from 2013 to 2016 seems to be driven by a decrease in males’ participation, rather than an increase in females’ participation. The smallest gap is among eighth graders:1 percentage point in 2016. While the eighth-grade gender gap was smaller than in 1991 (7 percentage points), most of this narrowing occurred from 1991 to 1999, when the gap fell from 7 to 2 percentage points (Appendix 1).

Differences by race and Hispanic origin1

In 2016, among eighth graders, a higher percentage of non-Hispanic white students participated in school athletics than non-Hispanic black students (68 and 62 percent, respectively). However, this gap disappeared in the tenth and twelfth grades. Hispanic students were the least likely to participate in school athletics among all three grade levels; among tenth graders, 53 percent of Hispanic students participated in school athletics, compared to 62 and 61 percent of non-Hispanic white and black students, respectively.

Differences by parental education

Teens with more educated parents participate in school sports in higher proportions than those whose parents completed fewer years of school. For example, among tenth-grade students in 2016, 53 percent of those whose parents did not complete high school participated in school sports, compared with 71 percent of those with a parent who had attended graduate school. These disparities are similar for eighth and twelfth graders (Appendix 1).

Differences by college plans

Youth who say that they “probably will” or “definitely will” graduate from a four-year college are more likely than other youth to participate in school athletics. For example, in 2016, 59 percent of twelfth graders who planned to complete four years of college participated in school athletics compared with 43 percent of twelfth-grade students who did not have such plans (Appendix 1).

Other estimates

State and local estimates

2017 estimates for high school student participation in sports teams (including those outside of school) are available for select states and cities from the Youth Risk Behavior Survey (YRBS) at https://nccd.cdc.gov/youthonline/App/Results.aspx.

International estimates

While there are no international estimates of school sports participation, estimates for physical activity are available from the Health Behavior in School-aged Children study at http://www.euro.who.int/__data/assets/pdf_file/0019/339211/WHO_ObesityReport_2017_v3.pdf?ua=1 (See Chapter 4).

Data and appendices

Data source

Child Trends’ original analysis of data from Monitoring the Future: A Continuing Study of American Youth, 1991-2016.

Raw data source

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

Appendices

Appendix 1. Percentage of Eighth, Tenth, and Twelfth Graders Participating in School Athletics: 1991-2016

Background

Definition

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

Citation

Child Trends. (2018). Participation in school athletics. Retrieved from https://www.childtrends.org/indicators/participation-in-school-athletics.

Endnotes

1. Estimates for white and black youth exclude Hispanic youth and youth of two or more races. Hispanic youth include persons identifying as Mexican American or Chicano, Cuban American, Puerto Rican, or other Hispanic or Latino and no other racial/ethnic group.