My news feed linked to the article at Why do athletes choose social sciences over STEM? We looked at the numbers. - The Princetonian that compares major choices among athletes to non-athletes at Princeton. Athletes were far more likely to major in social sciences and less likely to major in almost anything else including sciences, engineering, and humanities. Some specific numbers are below:
58% of athletes major in social sciences fields
30% of non-athletes major in social sciences fields
19% of athletes major in economics
8% of non-athletes major in economics
The majors with the largest degree of overrepresentation among athletes are below. Note that several of these have ample size issues. Economics and politics have a large enough sample size to more reliable.
- Near Eastern Studies
Athletes being overrepresented among economics and political science majors is nothing new. Nearly all highly selective, private colleges that track athlete vs non-athlete major distribution report the same. It’s also not necessarily an effect of playing the sport, as a similar pattern occurs among surveys of incoming freshman. Athletes seem far more likely to plan on majoring in economics as entering students. For example in the most recent Harvard freshman survey reports the following, with an even more severe degree of overrepresentation than occurred at Princeton. It might suggest that more athletes plan on majoring in econ than actually occurs. Some athletes who plan on economics as freshman may switch out to something else later on.
37% of entering athletes plan to major in economics
11% of entering non-athletes plan to major in economics
The pattern also occurs at highly selective LACs and in DIII For example, the Place of Athletics at Amherst report at https://www.amherst.edu/system/files/media/PlaceOfAthleticsAtAmherst_Secure_1.pdf states 21-22% of athletes major in economics compared to 12% of non-athletes. It mentions that athletes in the 4 sports of football, men’s basketball, baseball, and lacrosse compose 33% of the college’s economics majors and 37% of college’s political science majors.
Less clear is why this pattern occurs. As noted above, athletes do not appear to be starting in other majors and switching to econ due to lack of success. Instead many seem to plan on economics prior upon entering the college.
One factor is that athletics can require a large time commitment, which can make majors that require a large time commitment challenging. However, while economics may not require as large a time commitment as certain tech majors on average, it generally does not have a reputation for being an easy or low time commitment major. I’d make similar comments about athletes having less stringent admission criteria, sometimes leading to being less academically qualified than average at the college.
Another factor may be the types of persons who play sports at a high level may be more likely to favor certain career paths that share some things in common with playing a sport at a high level and/or are known to favor athletes, such as certain types consulting and finance positions. Similarly “social” sciences that have a good amount of interpersonal interaction may be more like to appeal to persons who are used to spending a large portion of their week as team players.
As touched on above, there is a wide variation from sport to sport. It’s not every sport that favors econ – just some sports. For example, I rowed at Stanford. At the time, being an engineering major was especially common among men’s rowers at Stanford. A news story about the high rate of engineering majors is at Engineering a rowing team | Stanford University School of Engineering . One possibly related factor is most of the team (including freshman team) was composed of walk-ons and non-recruited kids. Non-recruited kids who choose to try to walk on to a team that has 6AM practices on weekdays may be less fearful of other large time commitment activities than average, such as engineering majors. There may also be some similarities in appeal of mechanical engineering to mechanical rowing + improving boat speed, as touched on in the linked article, with fixing boat in product realization lab. This fits with anecdotal experiences, with team members also doing solar car race and such.