Student Well-Being

Children of Married Parents More Likely to Do Extracurriculars, Survey Shows

By Kathryn Baron — December 11, 2014 2 min read
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Children between the ages of 6 and 17, living with two married parents are three times more likely to play sports, join clubs, and take art, music, and dance lessons than children living with two unmarried parents, according to a new report from the U.S. Census Bureau.

Children whose parents aren’t married are also less likely to participate in extracurricular activities than children living in single-parent families or with a guardian. Yet, the report also notes that as families have become “increasingly diverse and complex,” the share of children living in traditional families with two married biological parents is declining, while the percentage of children living in stepfamilies or other family structures is on the rise.

The report, “A Child’s Day: Living Arrangements, Nativity, and Family Transitions: 2011,” is based on results of the 2011 Survey of Income and Program Participation (SIPP).

SIPP gathered information from interviews with parents and guardians of more than 74,000 children under 18, on a variety of indicators of child well-being, including family income, neighborhoods, how often parents read to their children, how often they eat meals together, school performance, child care, and extracurricular activities.

“Examining activities other than attending classes provides a more complete picture of academic experiences than considering grade alone,” wrote Lynda Laughlin, a family demographer with the U.S. Census Bureau and author of the report. “Participation in extracurricular activities can influence how a child makes the transition to adulthood.”

The indicators often overlap. Wealthier children participate in sports, clubs, and after-school lessons at nearly twice the rate of their lower-income classmates. SIPP also found that the more education parents have, the more likely their children are to participate in extracurricular activities.

Laughlin speculates that the differences are due, in part, to the relationship between living arrangements and family income.

“Children with fewer parents present may have more household responsibilities, leaving them with less time for involvement outside of school, or those families, which typically have lower incomes, may not be able to afford them, she wrote.”

The report also found that an increasing number of children are dealing with disruptions in their lives, often tied to the economy. Fifty-six percent of children—over 38 million—have a parent who lost a job, have had to move or experienced a transition in their family, such as divorce, death or remarriage.

These changes, which disproportionately impact families living below the poverty level, create another barrier to children participating in after-school and weekend programs and sports, according to the survey, and increase their chances of being suspended from school or having to repeat a grade.

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A version of this news article first appeared in the Time and Learning blog.