Equity & Diversity

Sports in the City

By Sean Cavanagh — October 21, 2008 1 min read

When it comes to boys’ and girls’ participation in sports, the most serious gender gap may be an urban one.

That’s one of the findings of a recent study from the Women’s Sports Foundation that examines gender differences in youth athletic participation.

It found that rural and suburban boys and girls take part in sports at about the same rate. But a strong disparity emerged in urban areas.

In those urban communities, more than twice as many girls, 55 percent, as boys, 26 percent, were not involved in any athletics, the study found.

Overall, a higher percentage of boys than girls took part in sports across all types of communities— 75 percent, compared with 69 percent, the survey found.

The study, “Go Out and Play,” was released this month by the foundation, a New York City-based nonprofit group founded by the tennis star Billie Jean King to promote sports and physical activity among women and girls.

Marj Snyder, the chief program officer for the foundation, attributed urban girls’ low level of participation to economic and cultural factors, including lack of transportation and parents’ concerns about their daughters’ safety in getting to sporting events.

For “a girl who wants to participate in a basketball league and has to travel by subway to get there, her parents are going to be [worrying] about it,” Ms. Snyder said. Immigrant families in urban areas might expect daughters to spend more time at home, taking care of younger siblings, she added.

The study was based on a nationally representative survey, conducted last year by telephone, of 863 parents and 2,185 students in grades 3-12.

Of youths in urban communities who were involved in sports, a far greater proportion of boys (75 percent) than girls (45 percent) said they were “moderately” or “highly” involved.

Girls take part in a broader range of nontraditional sports than boys, Ms. Snyder said, such as dance and double-dutch, a type of jump-roping. Such activities, which were counted in the study, can be arranged relatively easily, with little need for transportation, she noted.

Those sports, Ms. Snyder said, “can be gateways to other activities.”

A version of this article appeared in the October 22, 2008 edition of Education Week

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