The Income Gap In Youth Sports May Not Be A New Story

The Income Gap In Youth Sports May Not Be A New Story

Data from new studies show that participation in youth sports, particularly elementary and middle school-aged children, was severely impacted by income. The topic was explored in a recent piece in the New York Times on March 24.

More Tech, Less Playing

Youth sports have been impacted by the income gap for decades. On the discussion of the income gap in youth sports, SOHH delved into why the topic should not be treated as a new one.

As more technology became available, including cell phones and internet access,  a wide gap that followed was the sports and physical activity divide between poor and affluent children. 

Interest in video games rather than physical activity may have helped widen the gap as well. But this lack of youth sports access, according to youth sports leaders, is not a new problem but appeared to spark interest as a new demographic of children is affected too.

Nothing New

Children that come from families that earn at least $105,000 participated in sports in 2020, according to a CDC report. Children that came from families in the middle class participated at 51 percent, while children at or below the poverty line participated at 31 percent.

Many factors have contributed to the decline of sports participation over the years such as spending cuts and priority changes from public schools, affected by budget cuts for sports or even after-school programs. 

The Amateur Athletic Union (AAU) is a youth sports organization mostly known for its youth basketball teams involved in frequent traveling for tournaments. 

Organizations similar to AAU charge a basketball player or other athletes fees that can range anywhere between $400- $4,000 dollars per summer and even require insurance along with the sports fees.  

Access is an unfortunate trend that has been going on, particularly with girls of color. 

Dr. Deborah Antoine, CEO of the Women’s Sports Foundation in a 2018 study found that teen girls of color were not getting access to sports like young boys. 

“Unfortunately, too many teens, primarily teen girls of color, still don’t have equal access to sports”, said Dr. Antoine. 

Dr. Antoine also said that teen girls are missing out on the academic, health, and educational benefits that sports can bring.

The Factors Add Up

The COVID-19 pandemic impacted many youth sports leagues across the country. One factor was the decrease in affordability. 

By 2021, 13 percent of youth sports parents indicated their community-based sports provider clasped during the pandemic, according to a State of Play survey.

The executive director, Natalie Hummel of Every Kid Sports in Bend, OR, said in a 2022 U.S. News story that the “discrepancy between kids of color and White kids” was not surprising as race and the national income gap directly affects Black and Latino children first. 

Hummel also noted that a number of those sports programs were “really just expensive travel programs.” She also said minority children seem to be getting fewer benefits.

Participation in youth sports varies by race with data reflecting 42 percent of Black children, 47 percent of Latino children, and the highest 60 percent of White children, according to a 2020 study from the U.S. National Center for Health Statistics that studied children from age six to as old as 17-years-old. 

Back to top