Low-Income Youth Less Likely to Participate in Sports

By Traci Pedersen
August 7th, 2022
Medically reviewed by Paul Sietes, MD.

A new study finds that lower-income parents are less likely than their higher-income counterparts to involve their children in school- or community-based sports due to barriers such as rising costs for these extracurricular activities.

For the study, researchers from RAND Corporation surveyed approximately 2,800 parents, public school administrators and community sports program leaders and discovered that financial costs and time commitments were obstacles to sports participation for middle and high school students.

Of those surveyed, 52 percent of parents from lower-income families reported that their children in grades 6 to 12 participated in sports, compared to 66 percent of middle- and higher-income families. (Middle- and higher-income families had an annual household income of $50,000 or more.)

Though costs for sports activities has increased in the past five years, around 63 percent of public school administrators indicated that school funding for sports has either remained flat or is decreasing. This likely places the burden on families to provide additional financial support.

As for why parents didn’t involve their children in sports, around 35 percent of all families cited financial costs as a reason, while 42 percent of lower-income families reported the same.

“Most survey participants thought youth sports participation provided physical health, social and emotional and academic benefits,” said Anamarie Whitaker, lead author of the report and a policy researcher at RAND, a nonprofit, nonpartisan research organization.

“However, the increasing costs for such activities are often passed along to families, which has become more burdensome for those who are lower-income.”

The researchers recommend that community-based organizations help reduce out-of-pocket costs for low-income families to increase their children’s participation in sports. Providing equipment and transportation, while also minimizing parent time commitments, may have the greatest impact on increasing sports participation among kids from lower-income families, the study also noted.

In addition, the researchers recommend that schools and community organizations conduct a thorough review of parent time commitments, and where possible, eliminate expectations or requirements.

They also suggest that parents, community organizations, and schools encourage young people (particularly younger youths) to try multiple sports. Encouraging adolescents to try several sports reduces the chances of overspecialization in a particular sport and allows them to explore sports that they would not have tried otherwise.

Another suggestion is that sports organizations provide training to coaches on how to create sports environments that help develop youth social and emotional skills, health and wellness, and promote a positive culture within the sports program or team.

Source: RAND Corporation



Traci Pedersen is a professional writer with over a decade of experience. Her work consists of writing for both print and online publishers in a variety of genres including science chapter books, college and career articles, and elementary school curriculum.