In this brief, author Sarah E. Leonard uses data from the 2012 National Survey of Children’s Health to examine involvement in activities among youth ages 12–18 across income categories and metropolitan status in the hopes of informing policy aimed at attenuating inequalities in participation. While not a complete profile of youth activities, determining participation rates helps us understand what youth are doing in their out-of-school hours and how these activities vary by income and metropolitan status. The relationship between extracurricular participation, academic success, and well-being is potentially linked in complex ways, yet access to extracurricular activities and employment is growing more unequal, and as a result lower-income youth may be increasingly disadvantaged compared to middle- and upper-income children. She reports that higher-income youth are twice as likely to be employed and one-and-a-half times as likely to participate in extracurricular activities as their lower-income counterparts. More urban youth participate in extracurricular activities than rural youth, but rural youth are more likely to be employed than urban youth. The share of youth who are reading, using television, and using electronics is comparable across income groups, though lower-income youth report participating in these activities for longer hours than their higher-income counterparts. In conclusion, she suggests actions that policy makers and school systems could take to give adolescents--regardless of their income or metropolitan status--the opportunity to participate in and benefit from extracurricular activities.

Publication Date

Spring 5-15-2017


National Issue Brief No. 121


Durham, N.H. : Carsey School of Public Policy, University of New Hampshire

Document Type



Copyright 2017. Carsey School of Public Policy. These materials may be used for the purposes of research, teaching, and private study. For all other uses, contact the copyright holder.





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