Posted by: Ethan Johnson | June 9, 2010

Wharton School of Business on Title IX

Today’s required reading comes by way of the Wharton School of Business, in an article titled After the Buzzer: How Time on the Field Helps Women in the Workforce.

Sports advocates have long insisted that playing sports in school contributes to a child’s success later in life, and they point to various evidence as proof: a disproportionate number of CEOs with an athletic side; employers who look for a sports background on résumés to decide between candidates; and studies showing that people who play sports in high school go on to earn more than those who don’t.

Still, looking at the correlation between sports and career success brings up a troubling chicken-and-egg question: Does playing sports help people become more successful, or are successful people just more likely to play sports?

It’s hardly a hollow debate: More than seven million students participate in high school athletics every year — more than half of all students nationwide. Yet arguments have raged for decades over the benefits of funding high school sports.

New research from Wharton takes a step towards answering the question. In her paper titled, “Beyond the Classroom: Using Title IX to Measure the Return to High School Sports,” (PDF) Wharton business and public policy professor Betsey Stevenson offers empirical evidence that playing sports leads to more education and better employment opportunities.

Click the link to the article for the rest of the story and relevant links.

I want the linked article to do the talking, but I will add a few thoughts of my own briefly.

  • From the article: “The gold standard for trying to identify a causal effect … would be to randomly assign some kids to play sports and some kids not to play sports,” Stevenson notes. “And in effect, that’s what Title IX did.” I don’t know if I agree with this choice of wording. I don’t think Title IX necessarily causes kids to “randomly” sign up for sports. I think it is clear that under Title IX there is a higher likelihood that females would play sports if so inclined, and certainly if not, won’t. Thus, it is possible to study female athletes vs non-athletes.

    Re-reading the article, I think the “random” aspect concerns Title IX mandating female participation in sports, which ostensibly would mean indeed that females would be “drafted” (for lack of a better word) into participating in sports.

  • I suspect that participation in sports increases confidence, which in turn spurs female athletes to take on what the article calls “traditionally male” occupations.
  • As for why female athletes would thrive in what I will call male-dominated occupations is that a fair number of males, myself included, expect others to relate to sports-related terms. One example I like to cite from my own corporate adventures was my admonition to my team that I wanted “touchdowns in the red zone” – which was my way of saying we needed to meet our service metrics. Arguably, I should have just said we needed to meet our service metrics but I felt more comfortable using sports terms. My team tolerated this and I spent a fair amount of time having to give instructions in less “sporty” terms. I wonder how many other managers would be as flexible – even out of necessity – which perhaps is why sports experience is prized as told in the linked article.

I think this is a step in the right direction having the Wharton School of Business talking up the benefits of Title IX, even if purely in business-related terms.



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