4. National trends in sport participation, 1992, 1998 and 2005

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4.1 Sport participation in Canada on the decline

Fewer Canadians aged 15 and older participated in sport in 2005 than in 1998 or in 1992. In 1992, the results of the General Social Survey showed that 45% of Canadians aged 15 and older or 9.6 million people participated in sport. In 1998, the figure dropped to 34% of the population. By 2005, the number of participants had decreased further to 7.3 million Canadians, representing 28% of the population.

A combination of factors may have brought about this decline. The aging population is perhaps the dominant factor. Others include time pressures, family responsibilities, child rearing, careers, lack of interest and participation in other leisure time activities such as watching television, and surfing and chatting on the Internet. Gender, household composition, educational attainment and income all influence sport participation. Active participation decreases steadily as the population ages.

Between 1991 and 2005, Canada recorded a big increase in the proportion of the population aged 65 and over (defined as seniors). The census counted 3.5 million seniors in 1991. They represented 11.6% of the total population, up from 8.1% in 1971. In 2005, the number of seniors had increased to 4.2 million. Their share of the population reached 13.1% mainly due to lower fertility rates and longer life expectancy. At the same time, children under the age of 15 dropped from 20.7% of the population in 1991 to 17.6% in 2005. Life expectancy for both sexes combined surpassed 80 years for the first time ever in 2004, up from 79.9 year in 2003 and 78 years in 1992.

Household composition also has a big influence on sport participation. The presence of children in a household increases the likelihood of family involvement in sports either as active participants or as volunteers. Household income and the level of education of household members also have an impact on sport participation. In 1992, 1998 and 2005, individuals and households with higher incomes were more likely to participate in sport than those with lower incomes. The same was true of education. More educated Canadians were more likely to be active in sports than those with less education.

The downward trend in sport participation does not mean that Canadians do not engage in physical activities. Many Canadians actually engage in regular exercise through various physical programs or classes, others enjoy jogging, gardening, power walking, etc.

According to the 2005 Canadian Community Health Survey, 13.8 million people, representing 51% of Canadians aged 12 and older, were involved in leisure-time physical activity of some sort. That was up from the 46% observed in the 1998/99 National Population Health Survey. In both surveys, the level of physical activity was based on the respondents' answers to questions about the frequency, duration and intensity of their participation in leisure-time physical activity.

The GSS data on sport participation by definition exclude a number of recreational physical activities. Their exclusion may have the effect of lowering the participation rate calculated using the GSS data on sport. A cross tabulation of the GSS data on the time use data on sport suggests that the non participants were active in sport, though not regularly (once a week), and they engaged in physical activities. In 2005, the non participants spent an average of 24 minutes per day on active sport. By comparison, sport participants spent 48 minutes per day on active sport. That was double the amount of time spent by the non-participants. Canadians are indeed active at various levels of physical activity but the focus of this report is participation in sport.

Chart 1
Average time per day spent on activities by sports participants and non participants, 2005

4.2 Comparison with other countries

International statistics on sport participation are not comparable to the Canadian data because of definitions and methodologies used. However, international trends are interesting to observe.

In Australia, sport participation is broadly defined to include participation in organized sport and non-organized sport plus physical activities. According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, the 2005-06 Australian participation rate for organized sport and physical activity was 29%.5 The Australian participation rate has remained fairly steady since 1993, hovering around 30%.

In the United States, participation in sport and physical activity among adults has changed very little. The 2005 National Health Interview Survey indicates that 30% of adult Americans engaged in regular-time physical activities, down from 32% in 1997.6 For the United States, regular leisure-time physical activities means engaging in light to moderate leisure-time physical activity for at least 30 minutes, five times per week or engaging in vigorous leisure time physical activity for at least 20 minutes, three times per week.

As in Canada, sport participation in Great Britain has declined over the years. However, their data include physical and leisure activities with sport participation. According to the General Household Survey carried out by the Office for National Statistics in Great Britain, adult participation in sport and physical activities in at least one activity (excluding walking) in the previous four weeks before the interview dropped from 48% in 1990 to 43% in 2002. A greater proportion of British men participate in sport than women. However, the decline in sport seen between 1990 and 2002 was greater for men than for women. Again, as in Canada, the gender gap in participation between both sexes continued to narrow.

4.3 Men participate in sport much more actively than women

In Canada men are more likely to participate in sport than women, although participation rates have declined for both sexes over the years. The gender gap in sport participation has narrowed a little, from a 17 percentage-point spread in 1998 to a 15 percentage-point spread in 2005.

The participation rate for men dropped from 43% in 1998 to 36% in 2005 and for women from 26% to 21%. The fall was steepest for young males aged 15 to 18 with a 14 percentage-point drop over the period to a 66% participation rate. The smallest decline was among older men aged 55 and over, with a drop of only one percentage-point, to 24%.

Among women, the smallest decline was seen in the 15 to 18 age group. Young females in the 15 to 18 age range, with a rate of 52% in 2005, recorded less than a 4 percentage-point drop from 1998, compared to the 14 percentage-point drop noted for males in that age group. For women, the greatest decline was in the 25 to 34 age group, down 8 percentage points from 1998.

4.4 Age is a major factor in sport participation

Active lifestyle decreases with age and so does sport participation. As Canadians age, their rate of participation in sport is likely to decrease. With over two-thirds of the Canadian adult population currently 35 years of age and older, the percentage of the population that is not active is likely to increase as the population continues to age. In 1992, people 35 years of age and over represented 60% of the adult population and their participation rate was 36%. By 2005, more Canadians (67%) were in this age cohort and their participation rate was down to 22%. Thus, the society is aging and becoming less active.

Adult Canadians 25 to 34 years old are an interesting cohort. In 1992, more than half of them (53%) participated in sport. By 2005, less than a third (31%) was actively engaged in sport. While the level of activity of the 25 to 34 year olds had slowed down, their participation rate was still above the national rate (28%). With much of their hours devoted to family, child rearing and careers, they still managed to find time for participation in sport.

Young Canadians aged 15 to 18 had the highest participation rate at 59% in 2005 but this was down from 77% in 1992. The 19 to 24 year olds had a rate of 43%, down from 61% in 1992. Those aged 55 and over recorded the lowest rate (17%), falling from a 25% rate in 1992.

Youths spend three quarters of their leisure time (7.1 hours per day) socializing with friends, relatives and talking on the phone, watching the television, surfing and chatting on the Internet.

Chart 2
Sport participation rates by age and sex, 2005

4.5 Provincial/regional trend

Participation rates highest in Nova Scotia and Alberta

Reflecting the national trend, participation in sport declined in all provinces except Prince Edward Island, dropping the most in Quebec and British Columbia. In 1998, Quebec led the nation in sport participation with a rate of 38%. In 2005, the participation rate in Quebec had dropped to 27%. Nova Scotia took over the lead with over 32% participating. Nova Scotia, along with Manitoba, showed almost no change between the two survey cycles.

The real success story was Prince Edward Island. The province had the lowest rate in 1998 but by 2005, it ranked fourth overall, behind Nova Scotia, Alberta and Manitoba. Newfoundland and Labrador had the lowest participation rate, at 24% in 2005.

Chart 3
Sport participation rates by province, 1998 and 2005

4.6 Education matters when it comes to sport

Canadians with higher levels of education tend to have higher participation rate than those with lower levels of education. This tendency was observed in both sexes, increasing steadily through to the attainment of a university degree. In 2005, one quarter of Canadians aged 15 and over with a high school diploma or less participated in sport. This compares with 30% for those with a postsecondary diploma and 33% for those with a university degree. The same was true in the previous survey cycles. In the 1998 survey cycle, 41% of those with a post secondary diploma or some university and 46% of university degree holders participated in sport compared with 29% of those with some secondary schooling or less. In the 1992 survey cycle, more than half of those with a post secondary diploma or some university and 46% of university degree holders participated in sport compared with 36% of those with some secondary schooling or less. The good news is that the gap in the participation rate between the highest and the lowest education levels has narrowed over the years from 22 percentage points in 1992 to 8 percentage points in 2005.

Chart 4
Sport participation rates by level of education, 1998 and 2005

4.7 Level of household income influences sport participation

Like education, household income has a measure of influence on sport participation. In fact, given that persons with higher education are more likely to have higher income and vice versa, both factors have impacts on participation in sport activities in Canada.

In 2005, participation in sport was more than twice as high (40% rate) for adult Canadians with household incomes of $80,000 or more compared with those with household incomes under $30,000. A similar pattern was also observed in 1992 and 1998.

Participation in sport typically involves expenditures on registration fees, equipment, uniforms, travel, accommodation and food. These outlays may be beyond the economic means of lower income earners.7 The amount that can be spent on sport activities is dependent on the amount of discretionary income that is left after other household essentials are covered.

Chart 5
Sport participation rates by family income, 1992, 1998 and 2005

4.8 Language has little impact on sport participation

Mother tongue has minimal impact on the rate of sport participation. In 2005, the same participation rate (30%) was observed for both anglophones and francophones. However, a further disaggregation of the data shows that anglophone men were slightly more involved in sports than francophone men. The reverse was the case for females; francophone women had a slight edge over their anglophone counterparts.

In 1998, nearly 49% of adult anglophone males participated in sport. This compares with 45% of adult francophone males. In 2005, the gap between the two had narrowed to one-percentage point with the anglophones still holding the edge. For females, the francophones had a higher participation rate (29%) in 1998, one percentage point more than anglophone females. The gap between the two remained unchanged in 2005.

For those who spoke languages other than English and French, the participation rate was much lower at 22% in 2005, down from 26% in 1998.

People born in Canada are more likely to participate in sport than people born outside Canada. Recent immigrants (those who came to Canada after 1990) reported a participation rate of 27%, almost three percentage points below the Canadian-born rate. However, those who came to Canada before 1990 were much less likely to participate in sport with only a 19% rate.

Chart 6
Sport participation rates by mother tongue, 1992, 1998 and 2005

Chart 7
Sport participation by immigration status, 2005

4.9 Students are the most active in sport, followed by full-time workers

Similar to what was found in 1998, students (with or without employment) had the highest participation rate in 2005 at 51%, driven mainly by male students between the ages of 15 and 24. Student participation was down from 64% in 1998.

Full-time employees were the next most active participants in sport with a rate of almost 31%. Part-timers recorded a lower rate of 27% even though they would appear to have more leisure time at their disposal than the full-timers.8 However, some part-timers may have had more than one job and this may have limited their participation in sport.

Chart 8
Sport participation rates by labour force status, 1992, 1998 and 2005

Table 1
Canadians aged 15 years and over who regularly participated in sport by immigration status, Canada, 2005

Table 2
Profile of adult Canadians regularly participating in sport by sex, 1992, 1998 and 2005

Table 3
Age profile of Canadians regularly participating in sport, 1992, 1998 and 2005

Table 4
Sport participation, Canada and provinces, 1992, 1998 and 2005

Table 5
Profile of Canadians who regularly participate in sport, 2005