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Blog Post

What Athletes Take off the Field


December 15, 2023

In today’s dynamic economy, the value of noncognitive skills cannot be overstated. While technical know-how and academic knowledge remain crucial, there is an increasing recognition of the role that skills like teamwork, resilience, and strategic thinking play in professional success. A fascinating area where these skills are intensively cultivated is athletics. Especially at competitive levels, sports serve as an incubator for these essential noncognitive skills. Through sports, people learn to navigate novel challenges, work collaboratively, deal with failure, and develop a disciplined approach to their goals. 

A recent study focusing on Ivy League athletes showcases the value of skills taught through athletics in the workforce. In “No Revenge for the Nerds? Evaluating the Careers of Ivy League Athletes,” researchers from the Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia, Harvard University, Duke University, and Georgetown University find that Ivy League athletes achieve higher terminal wages and earn more cumulatively over their careers than their non-athlete peers, even when controlling for variables like graduation year, major, and first job. These athletes are more likely to pursue careers in business and finance. The study authors conclude that the non-academic human capital developed through athletics––skills like teamwork, resilience, and leadership– has significant labor market value. 

The implications of these findings extend far beyond Ivy League tennis courts and swimming pools. In our rapidly evolving economy, where noncognitive skills are increasingly valuable, the experiences of Ivy League athletes point to an opportunity to leverage athletics to help build skills for all workers. We tell athletes to “leave it all on the field” but it turns out that what athletes take with them off the field is just as valuable.