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Gender Gaps Alter Benefits of Extracurricular Activities, Study Finds

Cross-posted from Rural Education.

Extracurricular activities make a positive difference in the lives of rural youth, but the impact of those experiences are different for boys compared to girls, according to a new study.

That means, for example, rural male adolescents who are involved in church and arts/music are more likely to have a higher GPA than girls in those communities who are involved in those same activities, but girls who participate on sports teams are more likely to have a better GPA than their male counterparts.

"Several of these findings differ from previous organized activity research on urban and suburban youth, indicating that involvement in organized activities provides unique developmental benefits for adolescent boys and girls living in a rural context," according to the study, "Organized Activity Involvement Among Rural Youth: Gender Differences in Associations Between Activity Type and Developmental Outcomes." It was published in the Journal of Research in Rural Education, and its authors were Kaitlyn A. Ferris, Benjamin Oosterhoff, and Aaron Metzger of West Virginia University.

The research looked at the activity involvement, academic achievement, and problem behavior from a sample of 456 middle and high school students in a rural community in a mid-Atlantic state. The county in which students lived was considered rural by the U.S. Census, and 66.2 percent of those involved in the study lived in or near a town with about 7,000 residents.

The study had three goals: identify distinct types of rural youth organized activity to see whether those categories were similar to those in urban and suburban communities; test the associations among activities, GPA, and problem behavior; and clarify previous findings by examining the effect of gender and age in activities on both academic achievement and problem behavior.

Rural youth have less access to organized activities than their peers living in more populated areas. The benefits to participating in organized activity was similar across age groups, meaning the experiences were equally important, regardless of their age.

Regardless of participants' gender, those who were part of school clubs generally had a higher grade point average, while those who were involved in church had lower problem behavior. But among those involved in sports, girls tended to have better grades, while boys who participated in church tended to have stronger test scores. Participation in some activities, such as community clubs (for example, 4-H groups), weren't associated with either problem behavior or GPA.

The study was limited in that most of its sample lived in a small, rural town, so the results can't be generalized for youth living in other types of rural communities. Researchers encouraged others to look at activity involvement in those areas and how it affects positive youth development.

"The evidence provided from the current study calls for greater investigation of positive youth development within rural communities and how associations differ among subpopulations of rural youth," according to the study.

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