February 26, 2015

Youth sports boost grades and earnings

Youth sports boost grades and earnings

Studies show that participation in sport in school:

  • improves performance on standardized exams in school
  • boosts self-discipline and other non-cognitive skills
  • increases overall human capital and labor market performance

With government budgets being squeezed around the world, many school districts have cut funding for sport. The value of sport is hard to measure, but a new article by Michael A. Leeds suggests that participating in sport can boost grades and even earnings after graduation.

Policymakers are often concerned that sport can distract students’ attention from their studies and lower overall human capital. However, evidence suggests that students who take part in sports actually demonstrate greater cognitive and non-cognitive skills, such as self-discipline. This is especially noticeable in very young students. Greater human capital improves students’ performance in school, a trend which continues after graduation when young people enter the labor market, resulting in greater earnings.

Of course, it is hard to test whether or not this relationship is causal; those who participate in sport may already benefit from greater human capital. However, the bulk of the evidence that Leeds discusses suggests that we should continue to support sports in schools.

Youth sports and the accumulation of human capital, by Michael A. Leeds, is published on 26th February 2015.


IZA World of Labor is a free, online resource created by the Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA) in collaboration with Bloomsbury Publishing Plc. Articles focus on global labor economics issues, drawing on empirical, evidence-based research in order to offer pertinent comment and evaluation, and best-practice policy advice.

Michael A. Leeds is Professor of Economics and Director of Graduate Studies in Economics at Temple University. He joined the IZA as a Research Fellow in 2013.