The Impact of Participation in French Students' Extracurricular Activities

Human Capital and Cultural Capital Revisited
Philippe Coulangeon, Social Forces, 2018
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Philippe Coulangeon (OSC)Philippe Coulangeon

The Impact of Participation in Extracurricular Activities on School Achievement of French Middle School Students: Human Capital and Cultural Capital Revisited 

Social Forces, Online Published 22 March 2018

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CitationMost controversies in this field relate to the very nature of the impact of extracurricular activities on academic achievement, if any. The main divide is between interpretations in terms of human capital and interpretations in terms of cultural capital (Farkas 1996; Kaufman and Gabler 2004).

The impact of participation in extracurricular activities on academic success has long been studied in the social sciences. This article aims at improving the measurement and understanding of this impact. Based on panel data regression models applied to a panel of French middle school students, it first provides a robust estimation of the impact of extracurricular activities on school outcomes (marks in French and Mathematics) and on a set of cognitive and non-cognitive skills.

It finds a positive and significant impact on marks in French and Mathematics and scores on non-cognitive skills tests. No impact is found on cognitive skills.

The article then investigates the underlying mechanisms of this impact. Its findings do not reinforce the transfer paradigm, according to which extracurricular activities provide students who participate in them with skills that they can reinvest in school life. Neither does it support the notion that such an impact may primarily be the result of students’ greater connivance with the cultural standards of teachers. Instead, it seems likely that what is mainly at stake in participation in extracurricular activities is families’ unequal capacity for extending the time of school supervision in their children’s free time. Therefore, insofar as the varying participation in these activities is strongly correlated to differences in students’ social and cultural background, participation in extracurricular activities would in itself contribute to reinforcing social inequalities in school achievement.

Figure 1

Figure 1

The varying impact of participation according to the nature of extracurricular activities.

Estimated values of the regression coefficients of eight activities on marks in French and Mathematics



The data comes from a French panel of secondary school students commissioned by the statistical studies department of the French Ministry of Education (Direction de l'évaluation, de la prospective et de la performance [DEPP]). It consists of a random sample of 35,000 French students who entered the first grade of middle school (sixth grade) in September 2007. The panel database includes a large amount of information on students’ trajectories and school outcomes recorded annually. It also includes information on students’ family environment provided by two subsequent mail-out surveys submitted to students’ parents in 2008 and 2011.