Student Well-Being

Is Youth Football Contributing to the College Gender Gap?

By Bryan Toporek — November 08, 2011 1 min read
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More boys than ever are playing youth football, and more girls than ever are attending college. Are the two somehow interrelated?

That’s the question that ESPN’s Gregg Easterbrook led his Tuesday Morning Quarterback column with a few weeks ago.

Here are the facts:

• More than 1.1 million high school boys participated in organized football during the 2010-11 school year, according to the most recent data from the National Federation of State High School Associations.

• More females than ever are attending college, with 9.9 million-plus undergraduates enrolling in the fall of 2009, according to data from the National Center for Education Statistics.

Does that mean the two are causally correlated? Not necessarily.

Easterbrook quickly (and rightly) notes that “the main force must be that girls as a group are doing very well in high school, making them attractive candidates for college.”

It’s not as though the college gender gap is a new phenomenon. Female undergraduate enrollment surpassed male undergraduate enrollment in 1978, according to NCES data, and males haven’t been able to catch up since.

But Easterbrook points out that females, by and large, don’t participate in organized football at the high school level (barring a few exceptions), whereas males do.

He surmises:

Having ever-more boys being bashed on the head in football, while more play full-pads tackle at young ages, may be causing brain trauma that makes boys as a group somewhat less likely to succeed as students. In the highly competitive race for college admissions, even a small overall medical disadvantage for boys could matter. More important, the increasing amount of time high school boys devote to football may be preventing them from having the GPA and extracurriculars that will earn them regular admission to college when recruiters don't come calling."

Not Just Brain Damage

A study published in the online journal .

A version of this news article first appeared in the Schooled in Sports blog.