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Social Class and Choice of Sports

Introduction – Social Class

The social class, to which individuals are attached, decides upon the manifold aspects of their life less talk of sports alone. The quality of food they eat; the clothes they wear; the houses they dwell in, and the social life they are used to live, be all determined rather than decided by the social class the individuals belong to. But before we discuss the sports which individuals choose to play out of social class compulsions, being the scope of study in this dissertation, it is important that we first get familiar with the definition of social class.

Social classes within human societies had always existed ever since the dawn of human civilization. There was a chief and his family who were accepted as sacred and sublime by all the rest of people of the ancient tribe. Close to the chief were selected people who were also respected and considered a superior ruling class by the commoners. While others were the workers, labourers and warriors who invariably fought the enemy at the fore front. Thus it was from the beginning of the world that conception of social classes or segments of society prevailed.

Segments of ancient societies

  1. Chief of Tribe or King and the Royal Family
  2. The Ruling Class
  3. Artisans & Craftsmen (Skilled workers: Barbers, Cobblers, and Potters etc.)
  4. Farmers,
  5. Working Class (Mine, Factory or Sewage workers)
  6. Labourers, and
  7. Slaves (Sociology at Hewett, n.p.n.d.)

As already explained, the grouping of people according to their status within society is as old as the human society itself. But there are other factors also which are equally effective in dividing a human society into various classes. These factors account for race and creed, religion and sects, cults and culture. The example of racial factor is that of the African-Americans and the White Americans especially of the South America before the American Civil War (1861-1865), whereas the sectarian differences making division within human society can be vividly seen through the long conflicts between the North and South Ireland and within the Northern Ireland parts since 1960s.

The best example of classes within human society that were created purely upon religious factor is that of Caste system of Hindus in India. The four castes created by Hindus on the basis of religion included the top class ‘Brahman’, the sublime class, while at the bottom is the ‘Shuddra’ class, the Untouchables. (Sociology at Hewett, Norfolk, n.p.n.d.)

A ‘Social Class‘, as defined by Cohen, Philip N. (n.p.n.d.) is a group of people who share a common status in a society. Elaborating upon status, he goes on to explain that the status of individuals of a society denotes the differences in family background, employment, power and wealth, besides some other attributes. Such attributes or qualities are, in fact, indicators of a ‘socioeconomic-status’ of person i.e. economic and social factors responsible for measuring up a person’s position in society. In modern times the scientific process by which human societies can be divided into various classes is known as “social stratification” and the “class structure” today is based entirely upon the system of social classes in a society. (Philip N. C., n.p.n.d.)

The Economic Factor Remains Dominant

The ‘social class’ perhaps is one of the most hotly debated subjects in the study of society. The subject has gained an added pertinence since last decade especially in the wake of recent scientific and technological advancements. Despite other factors, the most telling factor in these times is the economic factor that has ripped society now into two major divisions. Thus the primal issue in human affairs today is the division between the rich and the poor.

There are hewers of wood and drawers of water on the one side, and those who wield mastery over the planet’s resources on the other, and unfortunately this North-South Polarization has been sharpened by the international developments especially over the last decade, the division amounting to unbridgeable gulf. But there are some sociologists who believe that social classes benefit society, while others claim that social classes are not a necessary part of society. But according to M. Young and P. Wilmot (n.p.n.d), the more renowned and accepted sociologists are those who have stressed and investigated as to how people generally feel about social differentiation within human societies. (Sociology at Hewett, n.p.n.d.)

Social Classes in British Society

The history of Britain is soaked with stories especially the Shakespearean plays depicting old England as a superstitious and class-ridden society. Social class in Britain was the essential staple part of British life. But the changing economy over the years is gradually wearing away the old and conservative social class system and its conception in Britain. Although much has been changed yet some of the remnants of old social class features still remain in the British society today. The British class system of modern times is featured by the three major class divisions or groups of classes including:

  1. The lower working class.
  2. The Middle Class, and
  3. The Upper Class. (British Culture, n.p.n.d.)

The sociological study carried out about the UK class system indicated that the social class concept until 1980 was greatly linked with economic, political and social identities. Also the two-folded class model of society in Britain, revolving round the individual as well as the social structure employed using all the three categories of Upper, Middle and the Lower-working classes. According to Alan Leeder (2003), the social class concept in Britain is generally understood in the perspective of its definition presented by the Socio-economic groups and the scale of the Registrar General has been carried out for statistical purposes.

The classes as defined under Registrar General’s scale consisted of six chief classes ranging from class-1 (professionals) to Unskilled, Other , Manual and Non-manual skills. The coming of the NS-SEC (National Statistics Socio-economic Classification) was also based on employment relations rather than skill-based concepts. Some other measures presented by Goldblatt (n.p.n.d) describe ownership of home and car or educational level of learning as correlative of inequality and its obvious results and crime rates. Therefore there is sufficient evidence that people in England often associate themselves as representatives of a social class that continues to exist and bear sharp correlation between the life-chances and class inequalities especially in health. (Alan Leeder. 2003, n.p.)

Does Choosing Sport Depend upon Social Class to which Individuals Belong?

Just as the quality of food, clothing and house are directly commensurate with the economic and social status and the financial condition of a person, the choosing of sport by individual is also determined rather decided by the social class he or she belongs to. The many fabulous and costly sports, which are played by the rich and affluent people of a society include: horse-racing, polo, rowing, rugby union and motor racing etc, whereas sports chosen by relatively poor and lower-middle class individuals include: football, cricket boxing, and rugby league, especially in the UK. This disparity among individuals in choosing a sporting activity speaks for the difference between social and economic status that exists between individuals belonging to different classes of our present day society.

However, this is also a matter of argument among a number of researchers when it comes to correlational differences between social classes and choices of sports or physical activities made by the youth belonging to a specific social class. Although there is some likelihood that upper-middle class and middle-class youth choose different and costlier sports than those of belonging to lower-middle class, it still stands as not more than a hypothesis that needs to be further investigated specially in the context of cross-cultural and cross-border issues. For this very purpose, the present writer undertakes a review of cross-border issue to examine the validity of the issue whether or not choosing sports depends upon social class status. In the following part of the paper, a number of case studies regarding a number of issues on the same subject are reviewed.

A study was done by Elling and Knoppers (2005) on such variables as gender and ethnicity with regard to sports choices among youth. The study undertakes a number of tools and methods for the purpose of triangulation to investigate the relation between the choice of gender and social class status and finds out that there were apparent differences in these variables and choice of sports. The authors found out that although sports choice was used by a number of teenagers to integrate themselves with each other, the very sports were also used “by youth to distinguish and differentiate between social groups” (p. 257).

The study also found out a very dissimilar attitude against the common thought that sports involvement is relatively neutral. What they found out was that “gendered and racial/ethnic normative images still structure sport involvement” (p. 257). They also found out that it was not clear whether social class factor played a clearly decisive role in deciding the choices of sports among youth. The factors to this observation to the authors are stereotypical opinion and behaviour of society as a whole on sports and social class.

They aver that “Nevertheless, mechanisms of social inclusion and exclusion with respect to gender and ethnicity and sport participation are often contradictory, and ambiguous, since dominant stereotypical perceptions are not only affirmed, but also constantly challenged and resisted through sport participation” (p. 257). The review of this case study reveals that though there are indications that youth do choose sports to alienate themselves from social classes other than theirs, it is not crystal clear that how and why it happens and henceforth needs to be investigated further.

However, it will be surprising to note that in another study which was conducted on a sample size of 12 youth from elite social class to determine the purposes of their choice of baseball, revealed a very different kind of scenario for their choice of sports. Pugh at el. note that the reason for which the youth elite athletes opted to play baseball and produced results were similar to the studies conducted in the past.

The reason are “to have fun, challenge their abilities, and have social interaction with peers” (p. 773). The authors also point out a very important factor that among the sample population “Winning was not of paramount importance to the athletes, fun was the most important factor” (p. 773). The study registered that the sample population pointed out a number of incidents and situations that were ‘fun’ to them rather than anything else like winning or identifying themselves as a different social class.

Moving along the same line of case study review, we come across a very highly technical study that was conducted to gauge behavioral effects and physical involvement in sports. In this study the researchers, Shank and Beasley employed a number of variables to investigate the above mentioned concern. Among a number of factors, there was one of the relations between income and involvement of sports.

The authors found out that there was certain lack to prove that there was any firm relation between level of income and involvement of youth or people in sports. They further the discussion that it may be possible that any such difference is found in any other study with a different type of focus; it is also possible that upper income level people may be more involved but it is not clear: that is to say, there is little empirical evidence to suggest that upper income level people are ‘definitely’ more involved. Henceforth, the authors end with the remark that “in the case of involvement with sports in general, people of all income levels may feel involved” (p. 435).

Ahead with the same focus in mind, we run into another case study. This case study was conducted to determine what role is played by the single factor of motivation with regard to the factor of interpersonal and intrapersonal constraints (in our case social class conformity to sports) to youth’s participation in sports. The study discussed a very long list of essentials that made this study an important part of present sports psychology literature and investigation.

The study also undertook to look into both domain of motivation: the intrinsic and extrinsic motivations. The sample population was 450 (those who responded to the researchers). The authors, Alexandris and Grouios, report that it was not clear that which of the tow played a more significant role in the decision-making process of the individuals who participated in different sports activities. Furthermore, “no significant relationships were found between interpersonal and structural constraints and amotivation” (2002, p. 233). However, in the study it was evident that individuals participation was partly made possible due to “the power of intrinsic motivation”.

And the very study also revealed “evidence for the positive influence of extrinsic motivation on the frequency of participation” (2002, p. 233). The kernel point of the study is thus to be interpreted as carrying the evidence that “intrapersonal constraints interact with motivational dimensions and act as psychological mediators of amotivation and intrinsic motivation” (2002, p. 233). Thus in this study also, we find that although sports participation may be affected by motivation both intrinsic and extrinsic which may result in differential levels of intra and interpersonal levels of decision-making as far as the participation in sports is concerned, it is not very much clear if sports participation takes place only due to these factors.

Keeping the same line of chase, we find that in a case study a number of factors are discussed that play a very significant role in deciding sports participation of youth. One of these most important and rather newly-investigated areas is the involvement of parents with what sports their children tend to undertake as their pick. Barber at el. (1999, p. 162) cite Brustad (1992) who claims that the single factor of socialization plays a highly decisive role in letting youth participate in sports. And among other factors of socialization, parental behaviors play vital role. The author reviews the latest literature that motivates parental involvement for the benefit of their child in taking part in a sport because this parental involvement is essential. They further remark that “The degree of involvement a parent makes in their child’s sport makes a statement about the relative importance of this domain”.

They also point out that although a number of factors such as “age, gender, perceptions of ability, and sport level have all been found to influence participant motives, it is interesting to note that virtually no investigations have examined parental influences on the sport participation motives of today’s youth” (1999, p. 162). This very observation here can serve as an eye-opener for investigators as the present writer.

The overall results of the study related that participants consulted sports participation for a number of factors such as fun, excitement, and so on. However, what significant insight the study has led us into is that parental involvement is a must. The further step that the study has carved out is that the parents should also act as coaches to their children so that their participation to sports can be more productive.

The point which springs here clearly is that after the review of this study another factor of parental involvement has emerged. Our main focus of the study is whether social classes determine the choice of sports activity now seems rather loose on account of the empirical studies that have been reviewed as of above.

Recours at el. also conducted a longitudinal investigation with regard to motives that provoke participants from different communities, different social groups, and different age groups to participate in different sports. This study was conducted in the environment of France. I have included the review of this study here for the purposes of triangulation of more authenticity. The study undertook a number of instruments to gauge the focus. The findings reveal that “region of residence, educational programme, socio-economic status, level of expertise, and frequency of participation were not significantly related to sport motivations” (2004, p. 01).

The significant factors that really played a part were gender, age, nationality, and parent support in particular. Throughout the last part of the study, the authors shed light on the how’s and why’s of these determiners.


The present paper has undertaken the extensive and painstaking investigation of the issue that whether or not social classes are the determinants of deciding an individual’s choice of sports participation. The paper has, as such, reviews the general perception about this very notion on a superficial level, that is to state that, the common perception is that social class and choice of sports are correlational factors. This observation, as has been investigated through the extensive review of a number of case studies above, holds slightly valid in a limited number of situations; however, this very issue that social classes belonging does determine an individual’s choice of participating in a specific sports has not been proved to be the empirically proved determinant.

What is revealed by a number of extensive studies is that there a number of different factors that decide the course of an individual’s choice for a sport. Some of these factors are age, gender, social mobility, ethnicity (yes to some extent). The highly influential factor, however, has been empirically tested to be the parental involvement in the choice and activity of sports that an individual is undertaking.

Looking at the scenario from this viewpoint, what is clearly stated here is that although social class status does play a role in letting an individual’s decision fall on the choosing of a sport, it is not the prime factor not is it something highly tested and proved.


Cohen, Philip N. Social Class. Web.

Sociology at Hewett. Norfolk. Social Differentiation. Web.

British Culture (projectbritain). British Life and Culture. Web.

Leeder, A. (2003). C-SAP; University of Cambridge. Social Class. Web.

Sport, Gender and Ethnicity: Practises of Symbolic Inclusion/exclusion. Contributors: Agnes Elling – author, Annelies Knoppers – author. Journal Title: Journal of Youth and Adolescence. Volume: 34. Issue: 3. Publication Year: 2005. Page Number: 257+. Plenum Publishing Corporation.

A Case Study of Elite Male Youth Baseball Athletes’ Perception of the Youth Sports Experience. Contributors: Steven Pugh – author, Robert Wolff – author, Charmaine Defrancesco – author, William Gilley – author, Robert Heitman – author. Journal Title: Education. Volume: 120. Issue: 4. Publication Year: 2000. Page Number: 773. Project Innovation.

Fan or Fanatic: Refining a Measure of Sports Involvement. Contributors: Matthew D. Shank – author, Fred M. Beasley – author. Journal Title: Journal of Sport Behavior. Volume: 21. Issue: 4. Publication Year: 1998. Page Number: 435. University of South Alabama.

Perceived Constraints on Recreational Sport Participation: Investigating Their Relationship with Intrinsic Motivation, Extrinsic Motivation and Amotivation. Contributors: Konstantinos Alexandris – author, George Grouios – author. Journal Title: Journal of Leisure Research. Volume: 34. Issue: 3. Publication Year: 2002. Page Number: 233+. COPYRIGHT National Recreation and Park Association.

The Influence of Parent-Coaches on Participant Motivation and Competitive Anxiety in Youth Sport Participants. Contributors: Heather Barber – author, Holly Sukhi – author, Sally A. White – author. Journal Title: Journal of Sport Behavior. Volume: 22. Issue: 2. Publication Year: 1999. Page Number: 162. COPYRIGHT University of South Alabama.

Expressed Motives for Informal and Club/association-Based Sports Participation. Contributors: Robin A. Recours – author, Marc Souville – author, Jean Griffet – author. Journal Title: Journal of Leisure Research. Volume: 36. Issue: 1. Publication Year: 2004. Page Number: 1+. COPYRIGHT National Recreation and Park Association.