Disadvantaged Children Found To Read & Exercise Less

A research study fronted by Queen's University Belfast has found that children from disadvantaged backgrounds spend less time exercising and reading in comparison to their peers as they get older.

Academics at the Queen's Management School, in collaboration with a host of other institutions, uncovered the trend while examining how children's time use changes as they grow older.

While older children were less likely to engage in activities such as sport, physical exercise and reading, differences were also found in terms of their family background. As revealed in the report, socieconomic status (SES) impacts the amount of time children spend playing sport or doing homework.

Focusing on the after-school period on normal school days, the research was based on diary data from two waves of a nationally representative study in Ireland, the Growing Up in Ireland (GUI) survey. They measured children's activities at age nine (in 2007/8), and again at aged 13 (in 2011/12).

Children aged nine were found to be more likely to engage in physical exercise or reading compared to 13-year-olds. The latter, meanwhile, were more likely to spend time doing homework, family activities, or using media applications such as TV, videogames, music and social media.

In terms of SES, nine-year-old girls from high SES backgrounds spend seven more minutes each day reading than girls from low SES backgrounds. The same trend was identified at age 13, however with 17 minutes of a difference between high and low SES backgrounds, as well as an additional difference in homework at age 13.
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The researchers also studied whether the differences in SES were more closely tied to family income or education. The strongest associations discovered are between mother's education and children's time use, with the exception being that family income plays an important role in differences in time spent on sport/physical exercise, though only for boys.

Also partaking in the study was the Geary Institute for Public Policy at University College Dublin, and the Department of Health Behavior, Society, and Policy at the Rutgers School of Public Health. Their findings were recently published in the Review of Income and Wealth.

Dr Slawa Rokicki, Instructor at the Rutgers School of Public Health, said: "How children spend their time has important implications for their emotional, social, and cognitive development, and consequently for their future. Activities such as sports and exercise promote growth through the development of attention, self-regulation, and self-esteem, and also foster healthy behaviors.

"If children from disadvantaged backgrounds do not have equal access to opportunities to participate in these activities, then they are not being supported in achieving their full potential. As well as impacting on the children themselves, this also has implications for the widening socioeconomic inequalities in society as a whole.

"Our research also points to the timing of when inequality in time use emerges among children, which suggests the age at which any intervention should be targeted. For instance, gaps in reading by SES are already present at age 9, which implies that interventions to reduce this gap need to occur before this stage. In contrast, inequality in girls' sports time only emerges at age 13, which suggests efforts to reduce the SES gap should take place between ages 9 and 13," Dr McGovern concluded.


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