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Rates of participation in physical activity and sport

This is an excerpt from Sociocultural Issues in Sport and Physical Activity by Robert Pitter,David Andrews & Joshua Newman.

By Robert Pitter, David L. Andrews, and Brandon Wallace

Social class differences clearly influence physical activity and sport participation. In very broad terms, the more affluent a person is, the more likely they are to spend their leisure time doing physical activity. The less affluent a person is, the less time they have to spend on those pursuits. Similarly, people higher up the social class ladder tend to be more involved in organized sport. For example, using data collected by Statistics Canada, Canadian Heritage (a federal government department) found that fewer than 1 in 10 individuals with a household income of less than $20,000 per year participate in sport, compared to 15 percent of Canadians with a household income in the range of $20,000 to $29,999 and approximately 20 percent of Canadians with a household income of $30,000 to $49,999 or $50,000 to $79,999. Moreover, one-third of individuals with a household income higher than $80,000 engage regularly in sport (Canadian Heritage, 2013, p. 8).

Furthermore, a considerable amount of research has shown that the more affluent a school or population is, the more successful it is in sport—schools located in neighborhoods with high socioeconomic profiles, for example, tend to perform better within the sporting field (Brady and Sylwester, 2004). This is why we say sport is not egalitarian, meritocratic, or classless: Success in sport is significantly determined by affluence at the high school level. This may be surprising to some, but it shows that access to better resources and better coaches make individuals and teams more successful.

There is demonstrable evidence in the health literature showing that life expectancy and health outcomes rise along with social class as well (Marmot, 2004). As you move up the social class ladder, access to physical culture and sport experiences (as well as health care) increases, contributing to longer and healthier lives. Table 8.1 compares life expectancy at birth for Canadian men and women based on income. On average, the richest Canadian men can expect to live almost five years longer than their poorest counterparts (Greenberg and Normandin, 2011). Wilkinson and Pickett (2009) reported that in the United States, the age-adjusted mortality rate per 10,000 for the highest average income group is a little over half the rate of mortality for the lowest income group. Thus, if we look at physical activity and health together, it is possible to chart a social class gradient that would be applicable to most wealthy Western nations, including Canada and the United States.

Table 8.1 Canadian Life Expectancy at Birth by Neighborhood Income Quintiles and Sex (2005-2007)

More Excerpts From Sociocultural Issues in Sport and Physical Activity