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Betsey Stevenson, Wharton: Title Nine - Girls' Sports Lead to Gains in Life

June 24, 2012

Most schools in the United States receive money from federal programs. That means most schools must obey a federal law known as Title Nine.

It bars discrimination on the basis of sex at any educational institution that receives federal money. An exception is made for admissions at private undergraduate schools. For others, Title Nine covers "any education program or activity" receiving federal financial assistance.

The full name is Title Nine of the Education Amendments of nineteen seventy-two. A lot of Americans may be surprised to know that it was written without saying anything directly about sports. Yet that is where its effects are best known, especially at the high school level.

After Title Nine became law, the number of girls who joined high school sports teams sharply increased.

Research has linked participation in sports to positive effects like better self-image, fewer teen pregnancies and higher grades. But are these a direct result?

Two recent studies suggest that the answer is yes. They offer long-term evidence that it can lead to improvements in education, work and health.

Betsey Stevenson is a business and public policy researcher at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania.

She compared states, looking at differences in high school sports participation and in women's education and work. For each ten percentage point increase in sports participation, she found a one point increase in female college attendance. She also linked it to a one to two point increase in the number of women in the labor force.

The other study looked at physical health. Robert Kaestner is an economics professor at the University of Illinois in Chicago. He compared obesity rates and physical activity levels of women who had been in high school before and after Title Nine took effect. He found that those who came after Title Nine had a seven percent lower risk of obesity twenty to twenty-five years later.

Nicole LaVoi is associate director of the Tucker Center for Research on Girls and Women in Sport at the University of Minnesota. She says the new studies are important because they show trends over time. Still, she says, far more boys than girls join sports teams nearly forty years after Title Nine gave girls a chance to level the playing field.

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