NORMAL, Ill. — Although women's college sports are on the rise, only 18% of high school girls surveyed say they want to be remembered as athletes, a study shows.
Illinois State University's Joel Thirer surveyed 600 high school students at 10 high schools in eight locations across the country to study the relationship between female sports and high school popularity.
Thirer said his study, done in 1984 and recently released, is the first to examine the relationship between female adolescent popularity and female athletics. It also looks at adolescent perceptions of popularity generally, the topic of two earlier studies by other researchers in 1961 and in 1976.
The survey found that female teens' participation in sports is low on the popularity-making list--in both boys' and girls' minds.
Thirer, who chairs ISU's Department of Health, Physical Education, Recreation and Dance, said he undertook the study because of the growth in women's sports at the college level. He is a former women's college basketball coach.
"Mostly, there have been stereotypes about women in sports," Thirer said in a recent interview. "We wanted to estimate if the perception of the stereotype is real."
The survey contained statements about the elements of popularity and about how the students wanted to be remembered. Students ranked the statements according to importance.
The top answer from both sexes to a question about the basis for female adolescent popularity was "being in the leading crowd."
Girls put "high grades, honor roll" second, and "coming from the right family" third in importance. Athletic ability was ranked fourth by the girls.
Boys ranked "being a leader in activities" second and "being a cheerleader" third in criteria for judging female popularity. Boys ranked "coming from the right family" and athletics fifth in importance for girls.
From a different angle, many girls--43%--said they wanted to be remembered as "brilliant students." "Most popular" was the second most desired legacy by the girls at 39%.
Only 18% of females questioned said they wanted to be remembered as "being an athletic star," placing athletics third in importance out of three categories.
Students were surveyed at high schools in Chicago; Carbondale, Ill.; Jeffersonville, Ind.; Buckner and Morganfield, Ky.; Indiana, Pa.; Worchester, N.Y.; and Seattle.