Extracurricular activities for youth, such as organized sports, performing arts groups, and academic clubs, are very popular in many developed countries. For example, a majority of school-aged children in countries such as the US and Canada participate in at least one type of organized activity. However, access to and participation in these opportunities is uneven, with children from lower-income households less likely to participate. Much of this difference is due to the localized nature of financial support and coordination for these activities. This raises the question: Should societies make greater efforts to ensure access to these opportunities for all youths?
Detractors claim limited societal resources should focus on core academic instruction and not on activities that distract time and effort from fundamental learning. This argument rests in part on the belief that participation in these activities detracts from academic performance. However, ample evidence shows that secondary school students who participate in extracurricular activities have better academic performance and are more likely to graduate from high school and go to college, on average, compared with their non-participating counterparts. Still, providing these opportunities does require a substantial resource commitment. Greater investments in these activities can only be justified if we can show a meaningful return on investment.
Increasing the pool of managerial and leadership talent is one potential benefit of investing in extracurricular opportunities. Research has shown that participation in athletics during high school leads to higher future earnings, suggesting these activities help build valuable skills. I find that American youths’ participation in extracurricular activities when in secondary school is associated with a higher likelihood of holding supervisory responsibilities at work when in their thirties. Participants are more likely to be supervisors, and among supervisors, they are more likely to be responsible for determining promotions and pay setting. These findings hold for both athletic activities and non-athletic clubs.
How can we explain these findings? Other researchers and I have suggested that participation in these activities help individuals to build their social skills. While social skills are arguably important in most jobs, they are especially important in managerial occupations. Data show that skills such as coordination, persuasion, and negotiation are more important in managerial relative to non-managerial occupations. I also provide evidence that individuals who participate in extracurricular activities show higher levels of sociability.
Given the links between youths’ participation in extracurricular activities and both social skills and holding managerial responsibilities, a lack of opportunity to participate in these activities means that society misses an opportunity to develop its pool of managerial talent more broadly. These findings suggest that building the deepest talent pool possible requires societies to provide access to both quality formal education and to extracurricular activities. In addition to local and national government agencies, the private sector can help to develop this critical pool of talent by continuing its tradition of sponsoring local youth sports teams and performing arts groups. Aside from donating money and equipment, firms can also help by providing incentives for employees to volunteer in these organizations, such as paid volunteer time. These contributions would be equivalent to the pro bono work required of some attorneys and business executives, work which is viewed as done on “company time.”
© Vasilios D. Kosteas
Vasilios (Bill) Kosteas is professor of economics and associate dean at Cleveland State University, USA.
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