NEW YORK — Girls who live in urban areas start sports at a later age and have lower rates of participation than urban boys and suburban girls, according to a report released last Thursday by the Women’s Sports Foundation.
The report “Go Out and Play: Youth Sports in America” by professor Don Sabo at D’Youville College in Buffalo, N.Y., also looked at sports participation among disabled and immigrant youth.
Girls in urban areas with a family income of $35,000 or less enter sports on average at 10.2 years old, compared to 7.6 for boys, according to a 2007 Harris Interactive survey of 2,185 youth in the third through 12th grades and 863 parents.
Physical activity among urban girls lags well behind their male counterparts. In urban areas, 59 percent of third- to fifth-grade girls were involved in at least one sport, compared to 80 percent of urban boys. That compared to 81 percent participation for suburban girls and 89 percent for suburban boys.
“A level playing field exists for suburban boys and girls,” Sabo said. “However, urban communities are often faced with a lack of space and resources. When funds for sports are found, boys seem to come first.”
Girls’ athletic participation has increased since Title IX was passed in 1972, but a gender gap remains in many communities. The report indicates much of the disparity is rooted in economic inequalities, which affect the ability of families, schools and communities to provide equal opportunity.
Some 7.3 million youth participated in high school sports in 2006-2007, according to the National Federation of State High School Associations. The number of girls exceeded 3 million for the first time.
Many suburban girls’ interest in sports and opportunities to play were on par with boys. The greater parity in suburban communities shows that the gap can be closed, Sabo said.
“We really need to tap the potential of sports to help kids develop healthy lives,” said Sabo, a WSF board of trustee from 1993-2000. “We’re doing the least effective job for urban girls.”
About 9 percent of families reported having a child with a disability. More than two-thirds of the parents reported their children would be interested in playing, but 38 percent said no athletic opportunities existed.
One quarter of U.S. children surveyed had one or both parents born abroad, and 43 percent of girls played sports, compared to 75 percent of boys.
The report found youth sports activity was linked to healthier, more content families. But many parents, especially blacks and Hispanics, reported schools did not provide the same opportunities for their daughters as their sons.
“There’s a surge in urban girls participation during middle school years,” Sabo said. “By middle school, it’s more school-based, and they’re interested in trying new things and making friends.”
But the steepest sports dropout rate for urban girls is also during middle school. Sabo said that may be because the girls start sports later and don’t have the skills to succeed and have fun.
Policy recommendations included getting girls involved earlier in sports activities, advocating physical education as mandatory, enforcing Title IX regulations and reaching beyond traditional sports offerings for girls.