Stempel, C  (2006)  'Gender, Social Class, and the Sporting Capital - Economic Capital Nexus', in Sociology of Sport Journal, 23: 273 - 292

There is a lot of work suggesting that sport provides cultural or physical capital which can be converted to economic capital, although there is less understanding of how this process actually works. An earlier study (Curtis et al) attempted to measure the effects of adolescence sport participation by looking at incomes in later life. Participating in  'organised team sport' at school did seem to be associated with higher adult earnings, except for those in the highest education categories. This relationship  'remained statistically significant when controlling for age, Canadian birth, language of interview, employment status, and marital status' (274), although the relationship was weaker for women. Evidently, sport offers some kind of capital, but men seem better at being able to convert it.

What processes are actually involved? Is it that participation in sport provides physical capital that leads to success in  'exclusionary status games over  "physical appearance, clothing, eating and exercise habits, and physical ability in sport"' [quoting Curtis et al 2003], (274)? This study extends the work by exploring the  'High School varsity sport - adult income relationship  (hereinafter VS-AI)' (274).

The issue is how sporting capital gets converted to economic capital. One factor might be a connection or link between sport and lifestyle on the one hand and economic interests on the other. For example, meetings with work colleagues in a sports gym might have more payoff than solo sport. Another was that sport can help to build social networks with various  'gatekeepers' and impress them with social skills or character, complementing the economic world rather than being something completely separate and opposed to it. Most attention so far has been given to the elite sporting practices which are opposed to work [they compensate for it etc]

There is also a tendency to assume that sports participation has an individual effect through the building of character, discipline, teamwork or drive that are all transferable. But cultural capital in Bourdieu emphasizes that cultural values are arbitrary -- any characteristic can be used to construct a boundary and an identity. [The implication is that these valued qualities of character and so on are also arbitrary and implicated in social distanciation]. Thus  'displays of athleticism, or sport enthusiasm and knowledge, or dispositions, manners or physiques developed through sports may be misrecognized as "character", "discipline", or "team player" to powerful insiders, even when these attributes are unrelated or even negatively related to productivity' (276). Sport may have an economic pay-off because elites believe it produces these qualities.

The values of gatekeepers have been studied by Lamont (1992). Apparently, upper-middle-class individuals value  '"self actualization" and "moral character"' (276) in contrast to passivity and lack of ambition. Those sharing those values are admired, and those who do not  'raised feelings of disgust' (276). There is clearly a link with sport and exercise here. Lareau (2003) similarly found that upper-middle-class parents  'viewed children as projects and continuously encouraged and supported their children's personal growth and self development' (277) -- and opportunities to play competitive sport were clearly relevant. Indeed, there are often viewed as a preparation for working in large organizations. Thus there is considerable evidence of a belief in the  '"sport builds character"' approach.

However, there are doubts. For one thing, high-school sports participation is not strongly related to academic success or academic confidence [Grade Point Average is used as a measure of success]  (277). But sports participation is linked to prestige and popularity.  [It should be linked to success if it is building qualities of competitiveness, self-reliance and so on, of course]. This raises the possibility that sporting capital is converted to economic capital because status and reputation is associated with participation, enabling gatekeepers  'to classify the person as "one of us" or the "right kind of person" for our group organization to do business with' (278). In other words  'varsity sport participation is part of processes of social exclusion and inclusion that would most favour those in dominant or establish groups (gender, race, class) and rising  "outsiders"' (278).

High-school sports therefore functions as a  'rite of institution', especially for males. It is a socially-supported ritual. Much is invested in sport on the part of athletes, so it is not surprising that boundaries are also important for them. Men often have to keep up sporting capital in adult life, in order to operate  'within a high-status masculine culture' (279)  [the masculinity originates in sport or in work, or both?]. For women, participation in sport seems to help them in  'crossing gender boundaries and constructing new gender statuses, dispositions, and identities' more generally, which is especially important in entering traditionally male occupations  (279). There is some evidence that sport helps females cross into  'male' subjects at school. Sport seems to provide women with the ability to 'better weather the assaults, resistance and isolation they face' (279)  [which looks awfully like character-building after all? Or are we talking about sporting success as 'counterbalancing' low status for women?]

These relationships can be tested empirically. Participation in sports was operationalized as participation in particular kinds of sport, and also viewing televised sport. Sports that particularly expressed upper-middle-class or masculine values were expected to be more important. It is then expected that such participation would be linked to higher levels of income later, be stronger for men than women, and among women would be stronger for members of upper-classes  [such membership overcomes the effect of gender to some extent -- 'counterbalance' again?]

A telephone survey  [evidently piggy-backing on a routine survey by a news servicehunting 'human interest' stories --clever!] was conducted involving a 1025 adult respondents, using random digit dialling. Adults under 21 were eliminated as having insufficiently independent income. 846 responses were left. Respondents were asked about their sport participation in high school and their income. Education was also investigated, especially to be controlled, and so was age, 'gender, religion, race, employment status, marital status, city size, and whether the respondent had children' (280). Participation in particular sporting practices [the elite ones as above] was researched, and participants were invited to name any other sports in which they had participated -- and golf came out strongly! Participants reported whether they had participated  '"not at all," "less than once a week," "once a week," or "more than once a week"' (281). Intentions to watch televised sport proved less useful and the results were incorporated as a dummy variable.

Results indicate that men were twice as likely as women to have participated in sport. Participants had a 27 per cent higher income on average compared to those who had not. However, female athletes gained less benefit compared to female non athletes.

Hypotheses were tested by using regression analysis. The VS-AI link was not significant for women but it was for men. Other variables need to be controlled -- for example high-school student participation might also be affected by social class, so the answer was to try to isolate education itself as a factor  [class origins were not measured directly, it seems, and the author admits that there may be unmeasured aspects of social class remaining]. It is also interesting see if marriage prospects are improved by sport participation as well as employment -- and there did seem to be a link, with former male varsity athletes married more frequently than non-athletes. The same goes for male full-time employment, even after controlling for education and age. However, sports participation seemed to make no difference or marriage or full-time employment for women athletes. If anything, the model underestimates indirect effects of sports participation on adult income levels [it is not specified what these might be, presumably factors that were not specifically measured?].

The data also seems to confirm the view that sports participation has a greater effect with upper-class women specifically. It seems that  'women with a high-school education [only] almost had lower incomes if they participated in varsity sports, while varsity sport participants with a college degree had household incomes $5,752 greater than non participants' (283).

If it provides cultural capital, sports participation is most likely to be effective at an earlier career stage. Thus particular interest was devoted to measuring the relationship for those between the ages of 22 and 45. First, the relation between levels of education [only] and sport participation was assessed -- it was insignificant for men but more significant for women. It was this particular group [relatively but not too well-educated women] that was studied further, but all men in that age range.

Sport participation added a considerable amount to the income of both groups. However, postgraduates did not seem to demonstrate a strong relationship between sports participation and adult income. This may be because this group is  'more likely to develop autonomous sporting lifestyles' (284)  [as those who have gained access to the elite groups tend to, as argued earlier -- their tastes change with postgrad qualifications or with elite occupations?]. Of individual sports, swimming seems to be most effective for women, then ball games and tennis. For men, it seems to be 'golf, aerobics, watching the Olympics, ball games and cycling in that order' (284).  [The full data is provided in various tables throughout]. Swimming and tennis seem to be particularly important because they are  'dominated by the upper middle class, and both are relatively gender equal in terms of rates of participation' (286)  [There is a hint that this is based on some prior empirical data about the social class and gender backgrounds of participants].

Swimming and tennis do not require women to cross gender boundaries, but participation in ball games may do so [but wasn't that the whole point?]. Television viewing also seems to be  'much more gender equal in terms of both producers and consumers' (286)  [and there is another hint that this is because upper-middle-class members view Olympic coverage especially -- so class counterbalances gender again]. Golf is a strong factor for men: it is the most male dominated, but one 'in which masculinist qualities of physical aggression and dominance... are muted or sublimated' (286). Cycling and aerobics also produced a middle-class body -- these sports seem to be better at 'expressing upper-middle-class values of self-actualization and competence that are relatively androgynous' (286) which conforms with Bourdieu's analysis of different class stances on male bodies [only proles like big muscles]. In this sense, adult sporting practices  'may express qualities counter to values often identified as central to hegemonic masculinity' (287). [I'm not sure -- hegemonic masculinity also varies by social class -- not all men need big muscles?]

The connection between sporting capital and economic capital seems straightforward and established for males, embodied in the notion of sport as a rite of institution. Sports participation for women is increasing in popularity, and it still seems to offer the chance of crossing gender boundaries, by  'publicly engaging in a masculine institution and masculine practices, and using their bodies in masculine ways' (287). Such gender crossing does not seem to be necessary if occupations are less male exclusive. Again, the implication is that it is not a matter of character formation alone.

The main finding is that women seem to receive less economic benefit from sport  'and their participation may even have negative economic impacts' (288). It also seems that the best sports to take part in are not the heavily masculinised ones, but the more androgynous types.

Future research is needed, to chart changes over time. There needs to be better measures of sport participation, for example to get variations inside varsity sport, or to consider non varsity variants. The category 'ball games' seems too general. Information is needed on duration and intensity of sport, and the degree of social exclusion. Many other variables might be included, such as  'Measures of class trajectory, occupational history, high school and college academic performance and specializations, religiosity, and migration history and status' (288). [I think social class as a separate variable is a big omission --it would help especially to sort out the implied 'counterbalance' notions between class and gender]  It also be useful to follow up the survey with semi structured interviews, especially with gatekeepers, looking for the qualities that they actually require. [There is an excellent one done by Williams et al (2006 ) on the recruiters watching candidates perform at assessment centres. As would be expected in the UK at least, recruiters look at the information from psychometric tests and other standard data, but still tend to prefer people who were like them and who would fit in. Sporting participation was not specifically mentioned, but it almost certainly has a an influence on those subjective judgements].

References  [lots more in the actual article]
Curtis, J., McTeer, W and White, P (2003) ' Do high school athletes earn more pay?: Youth sport participation and earnings as an adult', in Sociology of Sport Journal, 20: 60--76
Lamont, M  (1992)  Money, morals and manners: The culture of the French and American upper-middle class, Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
Lareau, A  (2003)  Unequal childhoods: Class, race, and family life, Berkeley: University of California Press 
Williams, D., Brown, P. and Hesketh, A. (2006) How to Get the Best Graduate Job: Insider Strategies for Success in the Graduate Job Market. London: Pearson Education Limited.

 [It is also interesting to see a reference here to Murphy and his discussion of social closure]
key concepts