Social Mobility and Extracurricular Participation among American Youth

Posted by Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science on March 2, 2015

Income-based differences in extracurricular participation are on the rise and these differences greatly affect later outcomes. This disparity exacerbates the already growing income achievement gap that has kept poor children behind in school and later in life. While upper and middle class students have become more active in school clubs and sports teams over the past four decades, their working class peers have become increasingly disengaged and disconnected, particularly since their participation rates started plummeting in the ’90s.

Article in the Atlantic:

Referencing the following academic paper:

The Engagement Gap: Social Mobility and Extracurricular Participation among American Youth

Kaisa Snellman
Jennifer M. Silva
Carl B. Frederick
Robert D. Putnam


Participation in extracurricular activities is associated with positive youth outcomes such as higher education attainment and greater future earnings. We present new analyses of four national longitudinal surveys of American high school students that reveal a sharp increase in the class gap in extracurricular involvement. Since the 1970s, upper-middle-class students have become increasingly active in school clubs and sport teams, while participation among working-class students has veered in the opposite direction. These growing gaps have emerged in the wake of rising income inequality, the introduction of “pay to play” programs, and increasing time and money investments by upper-middle-class parents in children’s development. These trends need to be taken into account in any new initiative to monitor mobility. They also present a challenge to the American ideal of equal opportunity insofar as participation in organized activities shapes patterns of social mobility.

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