Published: September 7, 2018

Download: Life Course Centre Working Paper: 2018-17


Elizabeth Baldwin and Martin O’Flaherty.

Non-Technical Summary:

International evidence suggests that children from more advantaged families spend more time in extracurricular activities (organised out-of-school activities such as sport, music lessons, or debating). This difference is potentially consequential because positive associations have been found between extracurricular activity participation and a range of academic outcomes. We reviewed the literature on this topic in order to determine whether differences in extracurricular activity participation contribute to disadvantaged adolescents’ poorer outcomes later in life.

Our review found that more advantaged youth are more likely to participate in extracurricular activities, although there is still significant participation among disadvantaged children. In addition, more advantaged youth participated in a greater variety of activities, whereas disadvantaged adolescents were more likely to participate in sports alone.

These differences in participation rates and patterns appear to be mostly the result of economic differences. Youth from poorer families may struggle to pay activity fees, lack access to transport, or be constrained by parents’ irregular work schedules or family responsibilities. However, there was also some evidence that non-material differences may play a part: more educated parents tended to value structured activity participation more highly, and may be better placed to find and take advantage of opportunities for their children.

We reviewed the effect of extracurricular activity participation on seven outcomes: high school grades and standardised test scores, high school graduation, college/university attendance, college/university graduation and overall education attainment, and employment and earnings in early adulthood. There was good evidence that participation was positively associated with grades and college attendance, at least in the United States. Evidence for the other outcomes was less consistent. There was no evidence that the effect of participation differed depending on the socioeconomic status of the participant.

Despite the fact that extracurricular activity participation rates are lower among disadvantaged youth, we found little compelling evidence that this participation gap significantly contributes to differences in outcomes. However, more well-designed studies are needed to answer this question with greater confidence.


September 7, 2018