Gender Differences in the Relationships Between Extracurricular Activities Participation, Self-description, and Domain-specific and General Self-esteem

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Fifty-four male and 80 female Grade 11 students participated in this study of the relationship between extracurricular activities participation and self-description and general and physical self-esteem. We hypothesized that boys would have more positive physical self-perceptions than girls, but that the sexes would not differ on general self-esteem, and that greater participation in extracurricular activities would be related to greater general self-esteem, but that physical self-esteem would be particularly associated with athletic participation. All participants completed a series of measures of physical and general self-esteem as well as self-description (traditionally masculine and feminine attributes) and extracurricular activities participation. The results showed that, as expected, boys and girls did not differ in general self-esteem despite the fact that boys were more satisfied and reported more positive physical self-perceptions. Correlations across all participants showed that greater participation in athletics was associated with greater body satisfaction, and a more masculine self-description was associated with higher self-esteem. In addition, regression analyses mirrored the correlations and showed that greater general self-esteem was associated with more years of competitive athletics participation for boys and with more years of non-athletic activities participation for girls.

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  1. 1.

    Despite the difference in participation rates, initial analyses on all variables of interest revealed no consistent statistically significant differences across schools. Further, the participation rates for boys and girls were consistent across schools. The number of participants for the two city schools was 8 and 12. In the eight rural schools 7, 10, 10, 14, 15, 17, 20, and 21 students participated in the study.

  2. 2.

    The general self-esteem subscale was used rather than a separate self-esteem scale given that, like the other subscales, it has been shown to be both reliable and valid (e.g., Marsh 1994; Marsh et al. 1994).

  3. 3.

    Alpha coefficients were also calculated for each subscale for boys and girls separately. For all scales, the alpha coefficients were the same as or very similar to the indices for the entire sample.

  4. 4.

    Although the questionnaire included five spaces for participation for each type of activity, students were instructed to include all the activities in which they currently participated. As a result, students who participated in more than five activities in any of the four categories were encouraged to list all of them.

  5. 5.

    Non-athletic participation was not divided into categories as was the case for athletic participation. First, in contrast to other research on different types of non-athletic activities, the sample for our study was relatively small. Second, the range of activities (see "Results") was such that it was difficult to establish meaningful categories. Finally, examining the variables in this way most directly reflects the purpose and hypotheses of the study.

  6. 6.

    Following the procedures of Bowker et al. (2003), all questionnaires were administered in the same order. The extracurricular activities questionnaire was presented first, followed by the body esteem and physical self-description questionnaires. The gender role orientation measure was presented last. All questionnaires were presented in the same order for ease of administration. Given that all participation occurred during school hours, this procedure made administration more efficient because any additional explanations students required for a particular questionnaire could be addressed to all students simultaneously.

  7. 7.

    The participation rate in the present study is somewhat higher than the rate (77%) reported for Statistics Canada (1992) for adolescents’ sports participation in Canada. This percentage is also higher than the reported participation rate of 71% of Bowker et al. (2003). This particular difference may be accounted for by the fact that participants in the present study were explicitly asked to report all activities in which they participated both in and outside of school.

  8. 8.

    Although masculine, feminine, and androgyny self-description scores were calculated for all domains, because we were interested in participants’ general perceptions of themselves, only their general self-description responses are discussed here. Furthermore, androgyny self-description scores were not included in the analyses because they were not consistently correlated with the key variables of interest.

  9. 9.

    Because we assessed self-description along a continuum with greater use of masculine attributes and greater use of feminine attributes at the extremes, the remaining analyses are presented with reference to masculine self-description only. Furthermore, as indicated in the literature review, masculine gender role orientation particularly has been found to correlate with measures of general and physical self-esteem as well as with extracurricular activities participation.

  10. 10.

    In contrast, only 50% (n = 40) of the girls in our study defined themselves with a majority of traditionally feminine words.


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Correspondence to Shannon Gadbois.

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This research was supported by a grant to the first author from the Brandon University Research Committee.

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Gadbois, S., Bowker, A. Gender Differences in the Relationships Between Extracurricular Activities Participation, Self-description, and Domain-specific and General Self-esteem. Sex Roles 56, 675–689 (2007) doi:10.1007/s11199-007-9211-7

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  • General and physical self-esteem
  • Extracurricular activities
  • Gender
  • Masculinity
  • Femininity