The Sport Information Resource Centre
The Sport Information Resource Centre

SIRC is pleased to be working together with Sport Canada to share current research on topics informing policy and promoting quality sport programming. This week we are sharing highlights of a recent article examining IMPACTS ON CHILDREN’S PARTICIPATION IN ORGANIZED SPORT AND PHYSICAL ACTIVITIES AND ACTIVE FREE PLAY.

Children’s Participation in Organized Sport and Physical Activities and Active Free Play: Exploring the Impact of Time, Gender and Neighbourhood Household Income Using Longitudinal Data. Cairney, J., Joshi, D., Kwan, M., Hay, J., & Faught, B. (2015). Sociology of Sport Journal, 32(3), 266-283.

SIRC Highlights from the research

The purpose of this study was to examine the impact of aging (late childhood to adolescence) and socioeconomic status on sport participation. This study represents the first of its kind to be based upon an examination of longitudinal data. Longitudinal data was collected from a cohort group of children in a large region of Southern Ontario, Canada. Included in sport participation was organized sport and physical activity as well as active free play. Children were studied from grade 4 (average age 9 years) to the end of grade 8 (average age 13 years). Socioeconomic status (SES) was measured using neighborhood household income level. Gender implications were also considered within the study.

Highlights from the results include:

  • Household income at the neighborhood level is a significant predictor of participation in both organized sport/physical activity and active free play. The lower the income the less the participation.
  • SES differences in participation are consistent throughout this developmental age range (9-13).
  • SES impacts participation in active free play by girls but not for boys and shows that the SES differences in active free play for girls widens from ages 9 to 13. High SES girls increase participation in active play over time faster relative to lower SES girls. For boys the same age, SES seems to have no impact on participation rates.
    • Proposed sociological explanation: adolescent girls from low SES neighborhoods may be involved in more domestic activities having less time for discretionary physical activity
    • Proposed environmental factors: neighborhood safety concerns
    • As children age from childhood to early teens, participation in organized sport and physical activity declines, with some offset in increased participation in active free play. However, factors to consider within this (and not studied here) include quality of activity and health impact of the type of activity.
    • Results support the adoption of an intersectionality approach to studying determinants of child and youth physical activity. The theory implies that wider individual and population-level health outcomes are impacted by the intersecting factors like age, gender, ethnicity, and SES, which constrain opportunities and decisions to participate in physical activity for socially disadvantaged children and youth.

Policy implications:

  • Keeping in mind the intersectional theory mentioned above, Interventions should be targeted towards specific populations defined by multiple characteristics (age, gender, SES, ethnicity, etc.)
  • Programming should target lower SES communities to provide opportunities in organized sport/physical activity for all children. However, they should also target opportunities for adolescent girls more specifically both for organized activity and active free play.

Future research needed:

  • Extend longitudinal research to incorporate early childhood through emerging adulthood.
  • While the current research only considered one measure of SES, future research should consider further measures of social disadvantage.
  • Explore further ecological (sociological or environmental) factors related to SES that impact decisions to pursue physical activity.
  • Further explore if increase in free active play into adolescent year offsets the decrease in participation in organized sport/physical activity.
  • Explore how other behavioral factors such as parent involvement in sport and physical activity also come in to play with family income and participation.
  • While this study looked at one community in Ontario, expand the longitudinal data to examine subjects across Canada.
  • This study was based upon counts of activities, therefore future research should look at other measures of participation such as hours spent playing


The information presented in SIRC blogs and SIRCuit articles is accurate and reliable as of the date of publication. Developments that occur after the date of publication may impact the current accuracy of the information presented in a previously published blog or article.