Interscholastic Athletics and Investment in Human Capital


  • *Direct correspondence to Michael A. Leeds, Department of Economics, Temple University, Philadelphia, PA 19122 〈〉. Michael Leeds will provide all data and coding information to those wishing to replicate this study. Earlier versions of this article were presented at the Western Economic Association and Southern Economic Association Annual Meetings. We are grateful to Victor Matheson, William C. Wood, and three anonymous referees for their comments and suggestions.


Objectives. Several studies, such as Hoberman (1997) and Leeds (2003), have claimed that success in the athletic arena has distorted the human capital decisions of young black men. We test this hypothesis by determining how participation in interscholastic athletics affects the study habits of black and white youths.

Methods. We build a theoretical model that allows youths to invest in athletic or academic human capital. We test this model using data from the National Educational Longitudinal Survey and accounting for possible self-selection bias.

Results. We find that athletic participation does not have a statistically significant impact on the amount of time young black men and women spend studying. The impact for young white men and women is positive and significant, though the impact of playing football and basketball does have a negative impact for young white men.

Conclusions. Participating in interscholastic athletics does not have the pervasive negative impact on young black men that Hoberman (1997) and Leeds (2003) claim. The expected negative impact of basketball and football—the so-called money sports—exists for young white men, though this is offset by the positive impact of participation in athletics per se.