Wilson, T  (2002)  'The Paradox of Social Class and Sports Involvement: the roles of cultural and economic capital' in International Review for the Sociology of Sport, 37/1: 5 - 16

This is a study based on a large-scale social survey in the USA concerning sports participation and social class. The terms used are operationalised fairly crudely, so that economic capital is measured entirely by income, while cultural capital is measured by years of education. The argument is that both economic and cultural capital affect participation rates in sports overall, but that some particularly low-status sports --'prole' sports -- tend to be avoided by upper-class groups. The article tries to suggest that this is mostly due to cultural factors, not economic ones, to structures of taste, rather than time and income.

There are clear connections to the work of Bourdieu, although the simple operationalisations mentioned above are bound to be controversial: Wilson seems to believe that cultural capital can be effectively measured by years of education, although he acknowledges that it is also gained from upbringing as well. Note 1 on page 14 discusses the dilemmas rather more fully, but still maintains that  'educational attainment is an appropriate operationalization' of the more  'generic transposable dispositions, tastes, knowledge and the like' involved in cultural capital. However, upbringing is not operationalised or measured. There are also hints of the kind of analysis associated with figurationalism --'in contemporary America, the upper classes tend to avoid sports that stress physical contact, toughness, asceticism, and hard manual labour' (6).

The study generally confirms the hypothesis that cultural capital plays a larger part than economic capital in explaining avoidance of lower class sports, but also of interest is an attempt to compare the effects of different capitals against a number of other factors known to affect participation in sport, including race and gender, age, region and community size. Wilson expects there to be 'significant differences by gender in the relationship of education and income to sports involvement' (8), but his results do not seem to indicate this. The connections between income on the one hand and education on the other and attendance at sports indicate that  'there is no difference in the magnitude between men and women' (8). Moreover differences in income have a larger effect for age than gender in terms of participation rates. As for the other variables, they do weaken the relationships between income and education and attendance at sports, but these latter factors  'remained statistically significant and robust' (9). The actual weight of the two different factors do vary between the sexes, however, with the effects of income and education being roughly equal for men, while, for women 'the effect of income is somewhat stronger than that of education' (10). The same overall finding is apparent in participation rates as well --  'among both men and women... more affluent people and better educated people more likely to be sports participants' (10).

When it comes to involvement in those particular  'prole' sports, the effects of economic capital seem to be much diminished, and cultural capital comes to the fore, especially among men. For example, one third of high-school graduates went to racing events, while only 6.7 per cent of those with graduate degrees did so. Cultural capital seems to have a slightly weaker effects for women, except at the extremes of educational qualification -- in the middle range, attendance rates are pretty similar  (for example between high school graduates and college graduates).

Thus, overall, differences in economic capital seem less important than differences in cultural capital, and class differences are better explained by differences in  'preferences, tastes, skills, and knowledge' (13). Other implications include some evidence that sport attendance and participation helped to reproduce the social class system --  'along with other class differences in taste, sports tastes do in fact function to accommodate and reinforce the existing structure of social inequality' (14). Further, there is some evidence against the view that people are becoming more 'omnivorous' in their tastes as far as sports are concerned. There is some evidence from followers of classical music and opera that their tastes have broadened to include lower status types of music. However, the case for sports seems to indicate that lower-class types of sport are still actively disliked --  'It thus appears that, to some extent at least, cultural capital continues to involve the classification of consumption items into the more and the less valued, and to promote the elite's disdain for the latter' (14).

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