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Children's Activities on Saturdays: A Preliminary Report

Sociologists interested in inequality ask the question: do all children, regardless of their gender, race/ethnicity, or social class backgrounds, have the same opportunities to develop their potential? In turn, policy analysts ask: how can we restructured institutions so that all children have equal opportunities? Our research examined what children in the Phoenix metropolitan area did on Saturdays during the school year. The data were collected from a survey of households with children between the ages of 5 and 12 years in 2003-04.

Our research raised many questions. First, we found that poorer and Hispanic children were less likely to participate in events outside the home on Saturday. Clearly, this disadvantaged these children. Should government and civic leaders establish or fund Saturday programs in Hispanic and poorer neighborhoods, ensure public safety so parents feel comfortable sending their children outside the home, or help parents set up programs of their own?

Second, boys played team sports, while girls participated in arts/performances, education, or religious activities or attended spectator events. It is desirable that boys and girls have Saturday activities that reflect traditional gender roles? This is an important question because men and women's work lives are becoming more similar, and people's ability to succeed will depend, to a certain extent, on their childhood experiences.

Third, nonprofit organizations were used mostly by middle and upper income families and often for team sports. Poorer children engaged in unstructured play and often in a public park. Why did this happen? There may be a dearth of social capital in poor neighborhoods and fewer nonprofits. Possibly nonprofits from wealthier areas can partner with government to provide organized sports for poorer children, since the former often play their games at public facilities.

In societies which place value on equal opportunity and fairness, these findings and the questions they raise are meaningful.


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