The effect of school sports facilities on physical activity, health and socioeconomic status in adulthood

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This paper focuses on the long-term impacts of attending a high school with inadequate sports facilities. We use prospective data from the British National Child Development Study, a continuing panel of a cohort of 17,634 children born in Great Britain during a single week of March 1958. Our empirical approach exploits the educational system they were exposed to: children were sorted by educational ability at age 11, but conditional on educational ability, attended their closest school. This produces quasi-random variation in the quality of the school sports facilities across respondents. We use this variation between cohort members residing within the same local authority area, and focus on outcome measures of physical activity, health, health-related lifestyle activities, and socioeconomic status, collected at ages between 33 and 50 years. We control for any potential links between the inadequacy of sports facilities and inadequacy of other facility types, and test that allocation to school type is random with respect to pre-high school observables. We find that attending a school with inadequate sports facilities led to a statistically significant, modest decrease in the likelihood of physical activity participation during adulthood. In contrast, we find no evidence that inadequate sports facilities worsened adulthood measures of physical and mental health, lifestyle or socioeconomic status.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)120-128
Number of pages9
JournalSocial Science & Medicine
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2019


  • Adult health
  • Exercise
  • Longitudinal
  • Physical activity
  • Sports facilities

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