Describe what costs and benefits parents across the socioeconomic spectrum weight most heavily when making decisions about sport participation for their children.
Cross-sectional survey of a nationally representative online panel of parents of children between the ages of 5 and 18 (n = 1025, 52% response rate). Parents rated the importance of a series of potential costs and benefits of youth sport and these responses were compared across tertiles of per capita family income. We first examined the association between family income tertiles and cost and benefit variables. Model-based cluster analysis was then used to identity homogeneous groups of responses to costs and benefits.
In all income tertiles, the top two benefits of sport were the same: having fun and being physically active. Sport as a means of keeping children out of trouble was very important for 64% of low-income parents as compared to 40% of high-income parents. Obtaining a college athletic scholarship was very important for 26% of low-income parents, as compared to 8% of high-income parents. Relative rankings of potential costs were similar by income tertile, with risk of concussion and other injury and the impact of sport on schoolwork prioritized across tertiles.
Parents prioritized fun and fitness in sport, and were concerned about injury and the impact of sport on academics. Lower income parents were the most likely to view keeping their child out of trouble, and the potential for a college athletics scholarship, as benefits of sport. Efforts to support parental decision making should be grounded in an understanding that family preferences are contextually constrained. While all parents should be appropriately informed about the potential costs and benefits they are weighting in their sports-related decision making, such family-focused efforts should be balanced with the recognition that structural change is needed to address income-related concerns about sport participation.

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