Working Paper

Do Extracurricular Activities Contribute to Positive Adolescent Development? Longitudinal Evidence from Australia

Published: 2022

Non-technical Summary:

Prior research suggests that adolescents who participate in extracurricular activities have better academic outcomes, more academically oriented and less delinquent peers, reduced risk of substance use, and fewer behavioural problems. These benefits appear to be especially pronounced for adolescents from socioeconomically disadvantaged background. Therefore, subsidising participation in these activities for disadvantaged youth presents an appealing policy lever for governments and non-government organisations aiming to ameliorate inequalities.

However, it is increasingly acknowledged that the existing evidence on the benefits of extracurricular activity participation is based on cross-sectional studies of questionable validity.  When longitudinal data have been analysed, the observed effects of extracurricular activity participation are typically weaker. This suggests that at least some of the cross-sectional associations reported in previous studies may be confounded. More robust evidence is clearly needed before public investments in adolescent extracurricular activity participation can be advocated with confidence.

In this paper we employ individual fixed-effects models to offer stronger evidence on potential effects of extracurricular activity participation than previous evidence drawn from cross-sectional studies. By doing this for a wide range of activities and outcomes, our study also permits straightforward comparison of which activities are most influential for which outcomes. We analyse data drawn from 3,885 adolescents aged 12-15 in a nationally representative cohort of Australian children.

Strong bivariate relationships between all forms of activity participation and positive adolescent development were found. However, these associations were much smaller in the fixed-effects analysis. Beneficial effects of sports for mental health and arts for peer behaviour remained statistically significant in fixed-effects models.  In contrast, minimal effects of extracurricular activity participation for academic achievement were found. We conclude that extracurricular activity participation has small, beneficial effects on adolescents’ mental health and peer behaviour, but not their academic achievement.


Baxter J.Campbell A.O'Flaherty M.

O’Flaherty, M., Baxter, J., & Campbell, A. (2022). ‘Do extracurricular activities contribute to positive adolescent development? Longitudinal evidence from Australia’, Life Course Centre Working Paper Series, 2022-03. Institute for Social Science Research, The University of Queensland.