Panel Paper: More Sports, Less Crime? New Evidence from Title IX

Thursday, November 7, 2019
Plaza Building: Lobby Level, Director's Row H (Sheraton Denver Downtown)

*Names in bold indicate Presenter

Gokhan Kumpas and Joseph Sabia, University of New Hampshire

Advocates for youth sports programs claim that the benefits of sports participation include positive externalities, which provide an efficiency rationale for public funding. For example, a May 2018 White House Council of Economic Advisers report stated that youth sports programs enhance the “development of generalizable skills” that yield benefits not only for participants, but “for society as a whole” (CEA, 2018). The most commonly discussed positive externality from increased sports participation is reduced crime (European Commission, 2012). The United Nations (UN) argues that youth sports programs serve an important peacekeeping role by deterring violent crime, curbing drug use, and facilitating social progress (UN, 2018).

There are a number of channels through which youth sports participation could reduce crime. Cognitive and non-cognitive skill development among sports participants may facilitate human capital acquisition or improve labor market outcomes (CEA, 2018), resulting in higher opportunity costs of crime and less of it. In addition, sports-induced improvements in physical and mental health may deter crime (Downward and Rasciute, 2011; Anderson et al., 2015). Sports participation may broaden opportunities for post-secondary educational scholarships (Stevenson, 2010). Finally, school-based sports programs may also have incapacitation effects that reduce crime. On the other hand, school sports programs may crowd out time for academic pursuits or reduce resources available for academic investments, which could have the unintended consequence of increasing crime (Maloney and McCormick, 1993).

This study provides the first causal estimates of the impact of sports on crime. We exploit the introduction of Title IX, which required educational institutions to achieve greater parity in sports participation rates across males and females, to isolate the impact of female sports participation on female arrests. This policy shock is estimated to have increased high school sports participation among females by more than 600 percent between 1971 and 1978 (Stevenson, 2010; Kaestner and Xu, 2010). Specifically, we exploit the heterogeneous bite of this national policy shock across (i) states with different pre-Title IX male sports participation rates, and (ii) birth cohorts exposed to Title IX, to identify the causal impact of Title IX-induced sports participation on female criminal arrests.

Our results show that a 10 percentage-point higher pre-Title IX male sports participation rate was associated with a 1.6 percent decline in female arrests among affected cohorts. The effects were most pronounced for property and drug-related arrests, as well as aggravated assaults. Event study analyses and a variety of placebo tests add confidence to a causal interpretation of our findings. Instrumental variables (2SLS) estimates show that a 10 percentage-point increase in female sports participation caused by Title IX was associated with an 8.6 percent decline in female arrest rates, or about 1.23 fewer arrests per 1,000 female population ages 25-to-39.

A descriptive analysis of the potential mechanisms suggest that Title IX-induced increases in educational attainment and labor force participation are important channels through which Title IX reduced female arrest. Our estimates suggest that the 25-percentage point increase in female sports participation caused by Title IX generated approximately $10 billion in cost savings from crime declines.