Do High School Athletics Pay?: The Effects of Varsity Participation on Socioeconomic Attainment

in Sociology of Sport Journal
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  • 1 North Carolina State University
  • | 2 Texas Christian University
  • | 3 Adelphi University
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It has been reported that participation in high school athletics has a positive effect on education, occupational status attainment, and earnings. (Otto and Alwin, 1977; Howell and Picou, 1983). The findings regarding the economical benefits of sport participation have emerged from two regional panel studies and need to be examined for generalizability beyond local labor markets. We test this hypothesis using the five-wave Youth in Transition panel based on a national sample of 1,628 males. The respondents were surveyed repeatedly during their high school years (1966-69). They were followed-up 1 year posthigh school (1970) and again 5 years (1974) after graduation. Our results do not support the hypothesis. However, we suggest that the lack of supportive findings may be explained by the stage in the life cycle at which the follow-up was completed. That is, any economical payoff owing to participation in high school athletics is not an immediate return but may begin to accrue 10 or more years after graduation when career lines have begun to unfold. Another possibility is that the effect of high school sports participation on earnings may only occur for those also subsequently attending college. The implications of specific explanations of sport participation outcomes for the life course interpretation are discussed.

*Paper presented at the North American Society for the Sociology of Sport meeting, St. Louis, MO, October, 1983. The data utilized in this study were made available in part by the Inter-University Consortium for Political and Social Research. The Youth in Transition data were originally collected by Jerald G. Bachman under a contract from the U.S. Office of Education (Contract No. 0E-5-85-054). The authors bear all responsibility for the interpretations expressed herein. Thanks are expressed to Susan K. Taylor for assistance in manuscript preparation.

Direct all correspondence to: Frank M. Howell, Department of Sociology and SSRIC Laboratory, North Carolina State University, Raleigh, NC 27650; Andrew W. Miracle, Department of Sociology, Texas Christian University, Fort Worth, TX 76109; C. Roger Rees, Department of Physical Education, Recreation and Human Performance Science, Adelphi University, Garden City, NY 11530.
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