Story Highlights

  • Former student-athletes more likely to be thriving in nearly every area
  • Majorities thriving in purpose, community and social well-being

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Many former NCAA student-athletes go on to lead fulfilling lives after their college playing days are over. In fact, a recent national Gallup-Purdue Index study of college graduates shows former student-athletes are even more likely to do so than non-student-athletes. Former student-athletes are more likely to be thriving -- or strong and consistent -- than non-student-athletes in four out of five areas of well-being that Gallup measures.

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And in the only area in which they are not leading non-student-athletes, financial well-being, former student-athletes are just as likely to be thriving.

These results are among those featured in a new report, Understanding Life Outcomes of Former NCAA Student-Athletes. The findings are based on the national Gallup-Purdue Index, a comprehensive, nationally representative study of U.S. college graduates with Internet access. Gallup conducted the study Feb. 4-March 7, 2014, with nearly 30,000 U.S. adults who had completed at least a bachelor's degree. As part of this study, Gallup interviewed 1,670 former NCAA student-athletes about their lives and compared their responses with a cohort of 22,813 non-student-athletes who graduated from the same institutions.

Of the five elements, former student-athletes -- like their non-student-athlete counterparts -- are the most likely to be thriving in purpose well-being. This means they like what they do each day and are motivated to achieve their goals. The majority of former student-athletes (56%) are thriving in this element, as are an even higher percentage (62%) of student-athletes who played football or men's basketball. Both groups do significantly better than their non-student-athlete peers -- less than half (48%) of whom are thriving in purpose well-being.

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Majorities of former student-athletes are also thriving in social well-being (54%) and community well-being (51%), which means they have the support of strong social networks and are true members of the communities in which they live. In comparison, less than half of their non-student-athlete peers are thriving in either of these areas. Interestingly, former student-athletes who played football or men's basketball (59%) are even more likely to be thriving in community well-being, which may be related to previous NCAA research that found student-athletes in these sports tend to have a strong sense of responsibility to their communities.

Their hard work and access to well-being resources as student-athletes may pay off in health dividends for some former student-athletes. They are more likely than non-student-athletes to be thriving in physical well-being, defined as having physical health that is near-perfect and feeling active and productive every day of the week. Forty-one percent of former student-athletes are thriving in this element, compared with 33% of non-student-athletes. However, former men's basketball and football student-athletes are significantly less likely to be thriving (28%) in physical well-being than those who participated in other sports (47%).

Former student-athletes are least likely to be thriving in financial well-being, which measures how effectively they are managing their economic lives and increasing their financial security. Thirty-eight percent of former student-athletes are thriving in financial well-being, compared with 37% of non-student-athletes.

Nearly Half of Former Student-Athletes Thriving in Three or More Areas

Each of the five elements of well-being is additive, so an individual who is thriving in two elements should have a cumulative advantage over someone who is thriving in just one. Someone thriving in three of the five would have an even greater advantage. Nearly half (47%) of graduates who are former student-athletes are thriving in three or more areas, compared with 40% of their non-student-athlete peers. More than one in four former student-athletes (26%) are thriving in four or more areas, versus 22% of non-student-athletes. However, demonstrating how rare it is for anyone to be thriving in all five areas of well-being, small, equal percentages (9%) in either group have achieved this status.

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Bottom Line

Well-being is not only about being happy or financially well off, nor is it solely synonymous with physical health. Rather, it is about the interaction and interdependency among many aspects of life, such as finding fulfillment in daily work, having strong social relationships and access to the resources people need, feeling financially secure, being physically healthy and taking part in a true community.

The results from this study suggest that in many of these areas, substantial percentages of former NCAA student-athletes are finding success after they leave the playing field. It's entirely possible that former student-athletes possess an innate drive before college that leads them to compete at the highest levels of athletic competition and that this same drive spurs them to succeed in the classroom, the workplace and later in life. But there are certainly many aspects of being a student-athlete that encourage success in work and life -- elements of learning effective teamwork, extreme dedication and focus, building resiliency from losses and setbacks, thriving under pressure and benefiting from mentoring from teammates and coaches.

Survey Methods

Results for the Gallup-Purdue Index, which the study used for comparison purposes, are based on Web surveys conducted Feb. 4-March 7, 2014, with a random sample of 29,560 respondents with a bachelor's degree, aged 18 and older, with Internet access, living in all 50 U.S. states and the District of Columbia. These respondents included 1,670 former NCAA student-athletes.

The Gallup-Purdue Index sample was compiled from two sources: the Gallup Panel and the Gallup Daily tracking survey. The Gallup Panel is a proprietary, probability-based longitudinal panel of U.S. adults who are selected using random-digit-dial (RDD) and address-based sampling methods. The Gallup Panel is not an opt-in panel. The Gallup Panel includes 60,000 individuals. Panel members can be surveyed by phone, mail or Web. Gallup Panel members with a college degree and with access to the Internet were invited to take the Gallup-Purdue Index survey online. The Gallup Daily tracking survey sample includes national adults with a minimum quota of 50% cellphone respondents and 50% landline respondents, with additional minimum quotas by time zone within region. Landline and cellular telephone numbers are selected using RDD methods. Landline respondents are chosen at random within each household on the basis of which member had the most recent birthday. Gallup Daily tracking respondents with a college degree, who agreed to future contact, were invited to take the Gallup-Purdue Index survey online.

Gallup-Purdue Index interviews are conducted via the Web, in English only. Samples are weighted to correct for unequal selection probability and nonresponse. The data are weighted to match national demographics of gender, age, race, Hispanic ethnicity, education and region. Demographic weighting targets are based on the most recent Current Population Survey figures for the aged 18 and older U.S. bachelor's degree population.

All reported margins of sampling error for the Gallup-Purdue Index of all college graduates include computed design effects for weighting.

For results based on the total sample of those with a bachelor's degree who graduated in 1970 or after, the margin of sampling error is ±1.3 percentage points at the 95% confidence level.

In addition to sampling error, question wording and practical difficulties in conducting surveys can introduce error or bias into the findings of public opinion polls.

Generalized Linear Model

Gallup constructed a Generalized Linear Model (GLM) to study the differences between the college experiences of former student-athletes and non-student-athletes. To account for differences in the demographic characteristics of the two groups, the GLM accounts for age, gender, race and the education level of both parents of the graduate. Graduates are generally compared based on their combined responses of "agree" and "strongly agree," the two highest points available on a five-point Likert scale.

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