The association between adolescent socioeconomic status and early adulthood anxiety: Does sport participation mediate the effects?


Anxiety is increasing among Canadian adults, and has been linked to low socioeconomic status (SES) in childhood. Research exploring the mechanisms linking SES and anxiety is needed. Based on the social interaction hypothesis, sports participation may mediate the relationship between SES and anxiety. This study examined the association between adolescent SES and early adulthood anxiety, as mediated by sport participation. Within a social ecological framework, objective indicators of community/area and family SES, and individual perceptions of SES were examined during adolescence, as was sport participation. Anxiety experiences of panic, generalized, social, and agoraphobia were captured 3 years later among 460 participants (Mage=20±0.75 years). Regression models were used to analyze associations. With the exception of perceptions of financial worry (r= -.06, p=.15), SES indicators were significantly (p <.05) correlated with sport participation, including: parent education (r=.24), area material deprivation quintile (r= -.14) and family financial situation (r=.11). Adolescents who participated in sport were significantly less likely to report panic (Χ2 (2) =35.69) and agoraphobia (Χ2 (2) =7.47). In the final mediation models predicting each anxiety outcome, sport participation mediated the association between SES and panic (OR=0.51, 95% CI=0.35-0.74). Perceived family financial situation was protective of generalized anxiety disorder (OR= 0.58, 95% CI=0.35-0.95), while sport participation did not mediate this effect. These findings highlight the need to increase organized sport opportunities for adolescents – and to focus on those of low SES in order for them to benefit from the protective effects of sport on anxiety. Also, it is important to study the different anxiety outcomes separately as there are unique predictors of such experiences that need to be further understood.

Acknowledgments: This study is funded by the Canadian Cancer Society.