Low-income children's participation in out-of-school activities: predictors, developmental differences, and consistency over time



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This study is an in-depth analysis of the predictors of low-income children’s participation in activities. Developmental differences, consistency, and change over time were assessed using data from the New Hope project, an anti-poverty demonstration designed to increase family economic well being. Parents were randomly assigned to a program group with access to wage supplements, health care subsidies, and child care subsidies when they worked full time, or to a control group without access to New Hope services. Parents and children were interviewed 2, 5, and 8 years after random assignment. Teachers also completed a survey at each measurement period. The framework guiding this study is based on a reciprocal model that challenges unidirectional theories, allowing for tests of specific pathways by which activities affect child well being. Using all three waves of data, relationships between participation, family characteristics (economics and parenting practices), and child characteristics (peer connections, school engagement, future expectations, behavior, and academic achievement) were examined for the full sample and for age cohorts (middle childhood and adolescence). This study compared parents’ report of their children’s participation in sports to participation in lessons, clubs, and religious activities to make a distinction between important predictors of sports verses the other activities. The overarching questions were: (a) what are the individual and family antecedents of children’s participation in sports, lessons, clubs, and religious activities? (b) How consistent are these antecedents over middle childhood and adolescence. Results indicate that participation was highest when children were aged 12 – 15; participation peaked during middle childhood and dropped off by age 16 -18; boys participated in sports more often; girls participated in other activities more often. Parenting was consistently related to high participation over time. Parenting control and monitoring was particularly important for younger children’s participation in other activities, and parent approval and regular family routines was important for older children. Additionally, it seems that what children’s peers are doing and their social behaviors are consistently related to high participation as well. Children’s future expectations, academic achievement, and family economics were not consistently related to participation. Implications for policy are discussed.