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Income Disparities Seen in Extracurricular Activity Rates for Girls

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A report from the Girl Scout Research Institute finds that girls with lower socioeconomic status participate in extracurricular activities less often than their more affluent peers.

The report by the research arm of the Girl Scouts of the USA entitled "The State of Girls 2017: Emerging Truths and Troubling Trends," uses data from national and government sources to take a look at girls' well-being in the United States. The information was collected between 2012 and 2016.

While it covers a lot of ground, including demographic information, a look at the number of girls living in poverty, and the state of girls' physical and mental health, our focus here is on girls' participation in extracurricular and after-school activities.

Researchers found that among high school seniors, girls with lower socioeconomic status (SES) were less likely to participate in student government (6 percent versus 10 percent) and sports (17 percent versus 31 percent) than girls with higher SES backgrounds.  Girls with lower SES were also less likely to do volunteer work "at least a few times a year" compared to girls who are more affluent (73 percent versus 86 percent).

The report notes that "these differences are found in activity areas that have shown to contribute to girls' positive development."

Kamla Modi is a senior researcher with Girl Scout Research Institute.  Through an email, she further explained why these statistics were concerning.

"If girls with a lower SES are participating less in these activities, they are missing out on the positive gains that come with participation in these programs," Modi wrote. "This will widen the opportunity gap even more for girls."

She also mentioned that the Girl Scout program was designed to provide opportunities for girls from low-income families to display leadership, which can help close the gap between them and girls with higher SES.

There is no speculation in the report about why girls from lower-income families might have lower participation rates in extracurricular activites, but Modi suggested a few possible reasons.

"Transportation to and from these programs is a challenge for these girls and their families, and so is cost," Modi wrote. "Making these programs more accessible for ALL girls and families, and providing programs to supplement the education that girls get during the school day, would be critical in helping close the gap in extracurricular participation."

The report also provides information about the five states with the lowest participation rates for girls ages 6 to 17 in any organized activity after school during the 2011-2012 academic year:

  • North Carolina, 72 percent
  • Mississippi, 74 percent
  • Tennessee, 75 percent
  • Texas, 76 percent
  • Georgia, 77 percent

For the purposes of this study, organized activity after school was defined as "participation in any clubs or organizations after school or on the weekends." All of these states are well below the national average for girls' participation, which is 82 percent.

"Girls living in low-income households experience more challenges on nearly all indicators of health and well-being compared to girls living in higher-income households," said GSUSA's National Board President Kathy Hannan in a press release."And girls falling behind is bad news for our country, because it means that America will inevitably fall behind, too."


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