Race, sport and social mobility: Horatio Alger in short pants? Academic Article uri icon


  • This article addresses sport as a vehicle of social mobility for athletes of all racial backgrounds. Utilizing two waves of the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health, we test two sociological models. The zero-sum model argues that any time spent on sports takes away from time that could be spent on academics, hindering performance in school and ultimately mobility. The developmental model suggests that participation in sport contributes in a variety of ways to the performance of student-athletes in school and in the labor market. We operationalize social mobility by years of education and educational attainment. We find limited support for the developmental model. The results indicate white men and African American men who participate at low and high-levels benefit. Sport participation has no statistically significant influence upon years of education and educational attainment for Hispanic men. We use a Heckman selection model and find that self-selection occurs among (American) football players. We conclude by suggesting future research. © The Author(s) 2011.

altmetric score

  • 2.2

author list (cited authors)

  • Mackin, R. S., & Walther, C. S.

citation count

  • 2

publication date

  • December 2011