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New Data Shows Youth Participation In Sports Affected By Wealth Disparity

New data shows wealth to be the key factor driving children’s participation in sports. According to the Aspen Institute’s Sports and Society program, children between the ages of six and 12 whose household income totals less than $25,000 are three times more likely to be inactive in sports compared to children whose household income totals more than $100,000.

“Sports in America have separated into sports-have and have-nots,” said Tom Farrey, the Sports and Society program’s executive director, to The Atlantic.

Children in low-income areas are also less likely to be exposed to organized sports activities such as track and basketball because such sports are typically associated with parks. Other sports such as swimming or ice hockey require facilities, which are costly to own or rent.

There has been much concern over children in sports in recent years due to physical exhaustion and injury. However, The Atlantic reports that children from low-income housing suffer more enduring losses from missing out on sports opportunities. Youth athletics offer children regular exercise, which in turn leads to improved physical health, better grades, and longevity. They also offer children lessons in teamwork, resilience, and discipline.

According to Time Magazine, the business of youth athletics has turned into a $15.3 billion industry, driven by the idea that achievement on the field may increase a child’s chances to attend college. Yet, only higher-income households are capable of affording these sports programs and the equipment they require.

Forbes reports that one in five American parents spends up to $1,000 on sports equipment per child. In the United States, up to 209,000 girls and 284,000 boys play high school soccer. That comes to a total of $493 million for sports equipment for America’s high school soccer teams alone. Compare this to the $1.5 billion the nation spent in total on camping equipment as a family in 2014.

Low-income schools have been dropping free physical-education classes and are beginning to require athletes to pay for their sports programs. As a result, up to 70% of children leave youth athletics by the age of 13.

This loss of opportunity especially affects female athletes, who have been shown to benefit highly from sports programs. Female athletes have been shown to be more likely to be business executives and politicians. They’re also less likely to develop breast cancer and self-esteem issues.

Self-esteem especially has become a distressing factor as of late. A Dove study on body confidence recently found that up to 89% of women would cancel an important event due to their appearance. In another study, up to 60% of women hair loss sufferers said they would rather have more hair than either friends or money.

“Kids who are excluded for socioeconomic reasons are missing out on all of [these positive opportunities],” said Mark Hyman, an assistant professor at George Washington School of Business. “Sports would help them develop more fully as people.”

Not only do sports help children become more successful later in life both in terms of self-esteem and job opportunities, but they also help to create integration between children who may not otherwise come together due to racial and economic differences.

“Before football, I had never like had different friends of different races,” said one football player to Canadian researchers in an interview. “And in football, everyone’s just, yeah your Jamaican kids, Somalian kids, people from Singapore, some Italians. So it really helps you learn … how to make friends, diverse friends.”

The Sports and Society program’s Tom Farrey is hopeful of movements being made to help improve the lives of low-income children such as the Aspen Institute’s Project Play Summit. “There’s a great desire for solutions in this space,” Farry said. “It’s something that government and the private sector … should be subsidizing because they all benefit.”




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