- Youth sports in the U.S. are diverging according to income — more middle- and lower-income students quitting athletics while participation among wealthier children is rising.
- The typical family with kids who play sports spends about $700 a year on fees, equipment and more, but some spend up to $35,000.
- More public schools are also charging “pay-to-play” fees, pricing out some families.
- Wealthier families often spend more on kids’ sports in hopes of securing college admissions for their children.
From Little League to the ubiquitous suburban soccer field, youth sports in the U.S. have long been considered an important part of growing up. But the rising cost of playing sports, coupled with rising economic inequality, is increasingly leading poor and even middle-class families to hang up their cleats.
That trend is being fueled by the growth in “pay-to-play” sports, which is making organized athletics prohibitively expensive for many households. Participation in sports among families earning less than $75,000 has dropped since 2011, according to The Aspen Institute’s Project Play.
By contrast, children from better off families are participating in ever great numbers. About 7 of 10 children from families that earn more than $100,000 play sports, compared with 3 in 10 from families earning less than $25,000, the non-profit think tank found in a 2018 report.
The typical American family spends about $700 per year on their child’s sports activities, but some parents shell out as much as $35,000 annually to pay for lessons, camps, school sports fees, equipment, travel and more, according to Project Play. Even public schools are increasingly charging for sports due to budget cuts, data from the Rand Corporation shows.
Families earning $50,000 or less — or middle- and lower-income households — cited cost as the top reason their kids don’t participate in organized sports, the Rand study noted.