Study: Immigrant children less likely to engage in sport

Children of immigrants are less likely than their Irish counterparts to participate in sport and cultural activities, with a new study indicating that the distinctive nature of gaelic games may be among the factors.

Analysis of two waves of the Growing Up in Ireland (GUI) longitudinal study looked at the levels of participation in out-of-school social activities among immigrant-origin children living in Ireland, and found generally lower levels of involvement at both ages nine and 13, although the gap narrows between those two ages.

Using the GUI study, information on an initial 8,568 children was analysed, including input from primary caregivers regarding their children’s levels of participation.

“At both nine and 13 years of age, Irish children are more likely to be involved in organised sports than migrant children, although the gap reduces between the two waves [ages nine and 13], especially for boys,” the report said, adding that immigrant-origin boys were more likely to be engaged in sport.

There is a similar gap between Irish children and immigrant children when it comes to structured cultural activities, and the gap also narrowed between ages nine and 13, although overall levels of participation in dance and music is lower than the level of participation in sport.

Sports participation is higher among better-educated families and where the child has siblings, while school background has limited impact.

Noting the gap between Irish and immigrant children in sports participation and lower levels of involvement among African, Eastern European and in particular, Asian families, it said: “While this pattern can be interpreted as evidence of lack of integration, it is also possible that the types of activities on offer may be unfamiliar to immigrant-origin children as they are heavily focussed on team sports such as GAA games.”

Study: Immigrant children less likely to engage in sport

Later it said: “There is a focus on team sports in Ireland and not all children may enjoy team sports (such as Gaelic football, hurling or hockey) or may have no history of playing these games and following these teams.”

On cultural participation, affordability is a factor and parental educational background less of an influence. Participation is lower for children whose families’ first language is not English.

The report highlighted the importance of opportunities for young children from different backgrounds to interact and said: “13-year-olds from immigrant families are significantly more negative about their popularity than their Irish peers. About half of this difference is explained by having fewer friends and feeling less popular at the age of nine.”

Published in the winter edition of The Economic and Social Review, the study was conducted by Merike Darmody and Emer Smyth of the Economic and Social Research Institute and Trinity College Dublin.


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