Title IX, the 1972 law mandating equal opportunity to participate in education and activity programs that receive federal funding, resulted in an explosion of women’s sports in high schools and universities. Soon after, teenage pregnancy rates declined and women’s grades improved, but these changes occurred alongside a number of other social and political changes in the United States.

To tease out whether Title IX directly benefited women, a number of researchers have looked into the connection. Two new studies by economists indicate that access to athletic opportunities does improve woman’s well-being.

Betsey Stevenson, PhD, at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania, looked at women’s sports participation state by state in comparison with regional differences in education and work achievement. An in-press article in Review of Economics and Statistics describing her study finds that since Title IX, for every 10 percent increase in statewide female sports participation, there’s a 1 percent increase in that state’s female college acceptance rate as well as a 1 percent to 2 percent increase in women in the labor force.

Another study in February’s Evaluation Review (Vol. 34, No. 1) by Robert Kaestner, PhD, at the University of Illinois at Chicago looked at obesity rates and physical activity among women who went to high school in the 1970s. Compared with women who attended high school in previous decades, the 1970s cohort showed a 7 percent lower risk of obesity by their late 30s.

The findings suggest that, despite hard economic times, schools should resist cutting back sports programs, says Gwendolyn P. Keita, PhD, APA’s executive director for public interest.

“During times of financial hardship, athletic and sports programs may be seen as expendable. However, these studies show how critical these programs are,” she says. “We need to do all we can to encourage young girls, parents and school systems to continue sports and other athletic programs.”

—M. Price