Young people in the United States are starkly divided in how they use their leisure time. Some exclusively pursue their artistic or athletic passions and eschew other types of activities. Others spend their time on academic clubs, perhaps “building their resume” with an eye toward applying to selective universities. Still others are mostly disengaged from extracurriculars and other organized activities, either because they are working for pay or because they would rather informally hang out with friends. This variation, and the “clusters” of like-minded students that it creates, can partially be attributed to personal preference. However, it also reflects troubling gaps based on widening social disparities.
In our most recent working paper, “Harry, Hermione, Ron and Neville– Portraits of American Teenagers’ Extracurricular Involvement, and Implications for Educational Interventions,” CIRCLE Deputy Director Kei Kawashima-Ginsberg analyzes these trends in how contemporary American teens spend their leisure time, with particular consideration to how socioeconomic class affects students’ involvement in organized activities their schools or communities.
The study’s findings reflect the growing disparity in the resources that families have to spend on extracurricular activities. Lower-income families are increasingly burdened by the cost associated extracurricular activities while wealthy families spend more and more, without a sizable dent in the family’s household income. As a result, a wealthy family today spends 8.5 times as much money as a poor family does on extracurricular activities annually. The cluster analysis bears this out, as students in the Slackers/Weasley Twins and Invisibles/Neville cliques are the most likely to come from working-class families, and their parents tend to have the lowest educational attainment.
For these families, organized extracurricular activities are often simply unaffordable, especially given the widening income gap. As Kawashima-Ginsberg discusses, however, that is far from the only reason that students from working-class backgrounds tend to be more disengaged. These young people are also more likely to live in communities and attend schools that do not offer the amount or range of activities that youth in middle or upper-class neighborhoods enjoy. Their families may also view non-structured differently; not as an opportunity to acquire skills or build a college resume, but as cherished leisure time to be enjoyed before having to face the responsibilities of adulthood.
Kawashima-Ginsberg carefully articulates how the dynamic may advantage and disadvantage both groups. While those in organized activities may learn how to navigate and trust institutions, they may not have the opportunity to organize themselves (i.e. collective action). Those youth who participate in more informal activities may learn how to interact in a group and handle conflict, but miss opportunities to develop relationships and trust in institutions and adults.
Read the full paper HERE.