This is a follow-up to an article I published earlier this week that looked at how people’s socioeconomic background (crudely, their ‘class’) was a great predictor of the kinds of sports they got involved in.
Based on a large scale survey of sports participants, running came in just below sports like sailing, yoga and windsurfing, but above cycling, basketball and football in terms of the socioeconomic status of its enthusiasts.
But the data I used for that study was from Belgium, and I only included a handful of sports. So this post is designed to provide an English perspective, as well as much wider coverage in terms of the sports included in the comparison.
I’ve taken data from Sport England’s massive ‘Active People Survey‘, an annual sports participation survey of over 160,000 people, and done a bit of number crunching to compile a list of popular sports ranked by their relative popularity to high and low status groups.
More precisely, I generated a ratio of the rate of participation in each sport by high socioeconomic group people to the rate of participation for the low socioeconomic group. Sorry if that sounds confusing, but what it means is:
If a sport gets a score of 2 on the ranking that would mean it is twice as popular with the high status group as it is with the low status group. Or, if a sport gets 0.5 then the likelihood of a high status person participating in the sport is half that of a low status person.
So this is about comparing the appeal of each sport to the two groups, not comparing the total numbers in each group participating.
The two socioeconomic status categories are defined using the N-SEC classification system used in the UK census. Here’s a list of those included in each group:
- Higher managerial and professional occupations
- Lower managerial and professional occupations
- Intermediate occupations (clerical, sales, service)
- Small employers and own account workers
5. Lower supervisory and technical occupations
6. Semi-routine occupations
7. Routine occupations
8. Never worked and long-term unemployed
‘Participation’ is defined as taking part in a sport at least once per week.
The UK’s ‘Poshest’ Sport Rankings
Participation Rate Ratio
||Swimming – Outdoor
||Athletics – Track & Field
||Badminton – Indoor
||Swimming – Indoor
||Fitness & Conditioning
||Rugby Union – 15-a-side
Note: A high rank doesn’t mean better! The sports that are doing the best to encourage as wide a range of participants as possible are those towards the middle of the table with scores around 1. These are equally attractive to both ends of the social spectrum.
You can see that most sports are more popular with the higher status group than the lower status group (i.e. they have a participation ratio above 1). This reflects the fact that participation in sport as a whole is more common amongst the middle class than the working class.
Looking at the detail, there are a quite few surprising results. As with the Belgian results, running is pretty high up the list – only just behind golf and mountaineering, but I wouldn’t have guessed rugby or cricket would be in the lower half of the table,or that equestrian sports and shooting have such similar levels of appeal across the classes. But the data is from a very reliable source and from a huge sample, so we have to take it seriously.
I’d love to hear your interpretations for any of these figures.