A Critical Feminist perspective and data from the nationally representative National Educational Longitudinal Study are used to explore the relationship between involvement in sports and success in science for a recent cohort of high school aged women. We also consider whether women from different social classes and racial/ethnic groups and with different sport experiences derive similar benefits from sport. Variation in sport experience involves a consideration of type of sport (e.g., basketball vs. track), type of team (e.g., varsity vs. intramural), age of athlete (middle school vs. high school sophomore vs. high school senior), and leadership roles (e.g., captain). Our findings show that sport has mostly positive consequences for young women’s science attainment, although these effects are smaller than for a 1980 cohort of female athletes. These benefits exist across types of sport, teams, and levels of involvement but are their greatest in the sophomore year of high school. In contrast to earlier cohorts, we find that for this recent cohort, sport participation positively affects the science attainment of women from various subgroups—white, Hispanic, upper-ses and lower-ses. However, young African-American women see very little benefit from sport. Implications of these findings are discussed.
The authors are with the Department of Sociology at Catholic University, Washington, DC 20064.