A boy wearing a football helmet

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(The RAND Blog)

November 4, 2014

Adults Are Concerned About Sons Playing Football, Especially the More Highly Educated and Obama 2012 Voters

Photo by steele2123/iStock

by Katherine Grace Carman and Michael Pollard

RAND is conducting a series of surveys leading up to the midterm elections in November. In addition to asking people about their voting intentions, we're also asking about their beliefs and opinions about some of the nation's other pressing issues.

Following the deaths of three high school football players in three states (Alabama, North Carolina, and New York) in early October, growing uncertainty about the long-term impact of concussions, and lawsuits challenging how concussions are addressed in pro and college sports, we asked a nationally representative sample of adults:

Here's a list of sports that children often play in organized leagues or at school. Given what you know about safety in each of these sports, please indicate if you would feel comfortable allowing any of your children to participate in that sport, or not. If you do not have children, or your children have grown up, respond as though you had school-age sons and daughters.

According to new RAND American Life Panel (ALP) data, 44 percent of adults said they would not be comfortable letting their sons play football. Roughly the same percentage was uncomfortable with their sons playing ice hockey.

The majority of parents said they are comfortable with participation in an array of other sports—including basketball, soccer, baseball, and track and field.

Percent Comfortable with Sons Playing Sports

Percent Comfortable with Sons Playing Sports

Highly educated (college degree or higher) individuals were 29 percent less likely to be comfortable with sons playing hockey and about half (46 percent) as likely to be comfortable with sons playing football, relative to adults with lower levels of educational attainment. Highly educated individuals were significantly more comfortable than others with sons participating in basketball, baseball, soccer, and track. Interestingly, education decreases the chances a respondent would be comfortable with their son playing hockey or football, but increases the chances they would be comfortable with these other sports.

The surveys look at a variety of characteristics about the respondents, including how they voted in the 2012 presidential election. The data show, for example, that people who voted for Obama in 2012 were about half (48 percent) as likely as Romney voters to be comfortable with sons playing football, though they do not explain why. Significant differences by 2012 voting were not observed for any of the other sports. For example, Obama 2012 voters were 8 percent less likely than Romney voters to feel comfortable with sons playing hockey—but this difference is not statistically significant.

All of these observed differences also controlled for age, parent gender, race/ethnicity, employment status, marital status, and household income (as well as educational attainment and 2012 voting history); this means that these differences exist when all these other factors are held constant.

These findings are consistent with other research (PDF) that suggests that parental education is correlated with knowledge about the dangers of football.

The RAND ALP survey was conducted from 12:01AM Sunday Oct. 5 to 11:59PM Oct. 11 and included 2,752 adults.


Katherine Carman is an economist and Michael Pollard is a sociologist at the nonprofit, nonpartisan RAND Corporation. Relevant questionnaire items and descriptive tables are available as a supplement to the methodology report.