Saturday, March 31, 2007


The ESRI released a report last week on participation levels in sport amongst different classes in Ireland and the resulting policy implications. It found that people with low income or low educational attainment had much lower participation in sport.

Regarding income, more people who play sport come from the top 25 per cent of earners than from the bottom 50 per cent. Regarding education, 43 per cent of people who play sport have a third-level qualification, compared to 28 per cent in the wider population.

It appears that around 53% of top half earners (the 'rich') play sport as opposed to only 30% of bottom half earners (the 'poor'). Uh oh, I know what you're thinking; lots of ammunition for the less PC / more rabid columnists at the Sunday Independent in those stats. Well the ESRI thought of that and are very eager to head it off at the pass:

It could be argued that there is no direct impact of income or education on playing sport, but that people with high motivation are simply more inclined to work hard to earn money, to obtain qualifications, and also to make the physical effort required to play sport. If this were to be true, then the relationship between income, educational attainment and playing sport revealed in the last chapter would be driven by a common underlying cause, motivation, and it would be incorrect to assert that low income and low educational attainment themselves cause people to play less. However, this hypothesis based on motivation finds little support in the data.

They go on to give the stats on levels of interest and non-interest in playing across the income quartiles. It turns out that a fairly consistent 58% or so, say they are interested in playing sport - with little variation due to income. So that's alright then. But it strikes me that interest and motivation are two different things. I, for one, am interested in playing sport but not sufficiently motivated to do so (it's too cold, I left my P.E. gear at home, I have a note).

For sheer devilment, lets assume that only those interested in playing sport are actually playing it. Based on this around 90% of the 'rich' that are interested in playing sport, do so but only around 52% of the 'poor' that are interested in playing sport, do so. This means that 48% of the poor who want to play sport, don't, compared to 10% of the rich.

The ESRI seeks external reasons for the disparity (what in society is preventing poor people playing sport). The report says the participation differences are not down to lack of facilities or sport being too expensive. It has a little to do with not having a car or not living in a big city, but these are only relatively minor effects. The report never really examines the case for 'internal' reasons (what is different about poor people that they do no play sport, even if interested) being the cause. It does, however, admit:-

Overall, it is not possible to rule out underlying psychological causes, such as motivation.

.. while being anxious to point out ..

But there is nothing in the data to suggest that this is a helpful approach for explaining the strong relationships between income, educational attainment and playing sport.

One could imagine that if there was something in the data that suggested that poorer people were interested but just lacked the motivation to play sport, the ESRI would think very, very hard about publishing it. They know that the day after they did, the newspapers would be full of 'ESRI Says The Poor Are Feckless' headlines. Fintan O'Toole et al would have a conniption. There would be apoplexy on the Joe Duffy show, questions in the Dail and righteous indignation all over the blogosphere . Probably best not to go looking for such data too hard, eh?

Apologies for being late

... to the party but I have seen just (or rather, heard) the point of Josh Ritter. Lets face it, being an international artist with a hugely disproportionate following in Ireland is not always the mark of quality (c.f. David Gray, Chris Rea) but his song "Thin Blue Flame" from the 2006 album "The Animal Years" is the best thing I have heard this year. And it's available as a free and legal download via his site, which is nice.

That is all, as you were.