Is running a bit posh?

Why do you run? What was it that made you choose running rather than any of the other hundreds of possible pastimes you could spend your time, energy and money on?Why do we run?

Of course there are many potential reasons – from wanting to win medals to enjoying the social scene and fresh air – but have you ever thought about running as a status symbol?

A team of Belgian researchers looked at the socioeconomic backgrounds (levels of income, education level, occupation etc.) of participants in a wide range of sports and found that there was a strong relationship between their social background and the sports they participated in, with better off people participating in some sports and the worse off in others. In fact, a ‘social status [wonky] pyramid of sport’ emerged with high status sports at the top and lower at the bottom (see below).


sailing, windsurfing, tennis

skiing, squash, yoga, horse riding

club running, hiking, table tennis, track & field, volleyball

non-club running, club swimming, mountain biking, badminton

aerobics, going to the gym, scuba diving, cycle racing, casual swimming

basketball, casual football, dancing, karate, motorcycle scrambling

angling, club football, walking, judo

(adapted from diagram in Scheerder et al. 2015)

This general pattern undoubtedly exists and similar findings have appeared in studies from all over the world, albeit with local variations. There are probably many reasons for this. Of course some sports (like sailing and golf) require more financial outlay than others, making them harder to access for those with little money. Also, people feel most comfortable around others who are similar to them, so we will tend to be attracted to sports where we meet lots of ‘nice people’ (i.e. people like us) leading to a clustering of social backgrounds around certain sports. And perhaps different sports embody different values (running might embody endurance, stoicism, individualism) that are attractive to some groups more than others.

Of course this is a picture made up of averages, and people of all backgrounds can and do participate in running, just as in any other sport. But it’s interesting to think about the factors that might have influenced our choice to become runners, and to recognise what might be putting other people off joining us. After all, running has been very successful at increasing the participation within the middle classes (i.e. by increasing the number of women and older runners), but has largely failed to trickle-down to less affluent sectors of society.

In future posts I’ll be looking at research that explores running’s special relationship to key values of the middle-classes.

The Starting Gun

This is the first post on my new website, I’ll be updating the site with lots of material relating to the psychology and sociology of running at regular intervals, but this is a marathon, not a sprint (sorry) so expect new content on a weekly rather than a daily basis.start of a marathon project

A big reason for starting this site is to have somewhere to publish details of progress on my PhD research into runners and running, along with interim and the final findings as they are completed. I am developing a large scale and detailed survey of British runners that will improve our understanding of the psychographic characteristics of the community as a whole.

Another reason behind setting this up is to begin to compile a single source of information on sociological and psychological running research. This site is all about drawing the best and most rigorous research in the field together in one place, creating a touchstone site for industry and academia alike.

But that’s a long way – and a lot of post – down the road. I’m looking forward to the journey, and hope you will join me on it. If you’re interested to see what happens next, please subscribe!