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A Quarter Century of Participation in School-Based Extracurricular Activities: Inequalities by Race, Class, Gender and Age?


Extracurricular activity participation is linked to positive development, but it is also a setting for inequality. Using a quarter century of data from Monitoring the Future (N = 593,979; 51% female; 65% non-Hispanic white; 13% non-Hispanic black; 12% Hispanic; 4% non-Hispanic Asian/Pacific Islander; 7% other race), this article documents patterns and trends in school-based extracurricular participation by race, social class, gender, and age, and their links to academic and substance use outcomes. Findings reveal differences by race and confirm a division by social class that has worsened over time. Further, girls are gaining on boys and surpass them in some types of school-based activities. Participation is linked to better academic outcomes and less substance use, affirming the importance of redressing the inequalities revealed.

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This work was made possible through a Grant-in-Aid from the College of Liberal Arts at the University of Minnesota and a proposal development grant from the Minnesota Population Center at the University of Minnesota. The authors wish to thank the research team from the KIDS Projects (Kids Involvement and Diversity Study) for helpful feedback on earlier drafts, especially Doug Hartmann and Teresa Swartz.

Authors’ Contributions

A.M. conceived of the study, participated in its design and coordination and drafted the manuscript. B.S.H. participated in the study design, managed the data, and performed statistical analysis. R.L. contributed methodological expertise, performed statistical analysis, and contributed the graphics. All authors read and approved the final manuscript.


Funding for research assistance was provided by: (1) a Grant-in-Aid to Ann Meier from the Office of the Vice President for Research, University of Minnesota; (2) a Proposal Development Pilot Grant to Ann Meier from the Minnesota Population Center at the University of Minnesota; and (3) an Undergraduate Research Opportunity Program Grant to Benjamin Hartmann from the Office of Undergraduate Research at the University of Minnesota.

Data Sharing Declaration

The data that support the findings of this study are available from The Monitoring the Future Project, Institute for Social Research at the University of Michigan but restrictions apply to the availability of these data, which were used under a limited private-use agreement for the current study, and so are not publically available.

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Correspondence to Ann Meier.

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The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

Ethical Approval

This study was determined “exempt” from review by the University of Minnesota Institutional Review Board. The University of Minnesota IRB reference number for this study is: 1510E79542.

Informed Consent

This study was determined “exempt” from review by the University of Minnesota Institutional Review Board. The University of Minnesota IRB reference number for this study is: 1510E79542. For this type of study which analyzes secondary data, no formal consent is required.

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Meier, A., Hartmann, B.S. & Larson, R. A Quarter Century of Participation in School-Based Extracurricular Activities: Inequalities by Race, Class, Gender and Age?. J Youth Adolescence 47, 1299–1316 (2018).

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  • Extracurricular Activities
  • Inequality
  • Social Class
  • Well-Being