Leisure Activities in the Americas

Leisure is activity -- apart from the obligations of work, family and society -- to which the individual turns at will, for either relaxation, diversion or broadening his knowledge and his spontaneous social participation, the free exercise of his creative capacity.

Joffre Dumazedier

Why the attention to research of leisure activities?  Above all, in a capitalistic society, people are alienated from their work.  Apart from obtaining wages in exchange for labor, most people have no further commitment and attachment to their work.  The wages allow the workers to obtain food and shelter, and then to seek relief and relaxation through the pursuit of leisure activities.  In this regard, the research of leisure activities contributes to the understanding of worker motivation and may ultimately lead to improvement in worker productivity through better leisure opportunities.  A more utopian goal might be the fusion/integration of work and leisure.

A second set of interests in this type of research is related to the participation patterns in leisure activities.  At any moment in time, all types of leisure opportunities are available.  Some are immediately available at home (e.g. needlework/quilting, cooking, gardening, reading), some are available for free in the local community (e.g. bird watching, hiking, bicycling), some are available for a cost in the local community (e.g. golf, bowling, ice skating, concerts, museums, zoos) and some may only be available by long-distance traveling (e.g. winter sports during summertime and vice versa).  The focus of this type of research is the segmentation of the population based upon differential rates of participation in various kinds of leisure activities.  For government agencies, such research will enable them to plan, provide or improve the set of leisure services that have been under-delivered, missed or otherwise not satisfied by commercial concerns.  For commercial providers, such research will enable them to use a scientific approach to product definition, positioning and marketing. 

We will now cite some survey data from the 2002 MARS (Multimedia Audience Research Systems) study.  This is a mail survey of 22,097 adults in the 50 states of the USA conducted during the first quarter of 2002.  Within this survey, respondents were shown a list of leisure activities and asked to check those that they have participated in during the past 12 months.  In the next chart, we presented the results of the participate rates by age/sex in the form of a correspondence map.  This map is a geometric representation of the relationship among the leisure actives and the demographic characteristics.  Leisure activities that are enjoyed by the same people tend to be clustered next to each other, and demographic groups that enjoy the same set of leisure activities are clustered together.  

From this correspondence map, we note most significantly is the age/sex categories separated themselves naturally, with males on one side and females on the other side while the age groups arrange themselves in monotonic order.  The corresponding mapping program has no semantic understanding of the variables, so that the age/sex positions were determined purely as a function of the leisure preferences of these groups.  As for the leisure activities, there are many factors that affect the outcome, such as historical conditioning (as in the case of needlework which was much more prevalent once upon a time), gender roles (such as football and hockey for men versus aerobics and cooking for women) and physical abilities (such as running and snowboarding for young people versus bird watching and reading books for old people).

(source: 2002 MARS study)

For comparison, we will now cite some survey data from the 2001 TGI Brasil study.  This is a survey of 10,625 persons between the ages of 12 to 64 years old conducted during 2001 in Brazil (nine major cities and the interior areas of the southeast and São Paulo state).  Survey respondents are shown a list of leisure activities and asked to check those that they have participated in during the last three months.  The MARS study and the TGI Brasil study are slightly different, in having a different list of activities (e.g. not many snowmobiles in Brazil) and different time span (12 months versus 3 months).  Yet, the correspondence map below is very similar.

(source: 2001 TGI Brasil)

For further comparison, we will cite some survey data from the 2001 TGI Mexico study.  This is a survey of 12,400 persons between the ages of 12 to 64 years old in Mexico conducted during the year 2001.  Survey respondents are shown a list of leisure activities and asked to check those that they have participated in during the last three months.  The correspondence maps shows essentially the same type of patterns, with some interesting shifts.

(source: 2001 TGI Mexico)

In the next chart, we show the correspondence map of leisure activities versus annual household income in the 2002 MARS study.  Since the latter is a one-dimensional concept, the map is in fact falls along a straight line, with household income increasing from the bottom-left towards the top-right.  The types of leisure activities are clearly associated with income levels in ways that are quite obvious.  This has some interesting policy implications.  

Historically, it may have been the function of the government to provide public services, including public safety (e.g. military, police and fire protection), infrastructures (such as parks, roads, railroads and ports), education and recreation.  These public services are funded by taxes that are collected from individuals and businesses.  Over time, the sentiment seems to swing towards "less government is better."  At the extreme, some public services (such as utilities) have been completely privatized.  In less extreme cases, public services became fully funded or at least partially subsidized by user fees due to the feeling is that non-user taxpayers should not be burdened to pay for the users.  But when government agencies begin to behave like entrepreneurs seeking to maximize short-term profits, then the optimal product-pricing mix may discourage low-income people from using those recreational activities.  When that happens, the whole purpose of public ownership to guarantee universal access has been subverted.  If the vision is instead a long-term perspective that an active and healthy population will be more economically productive, the decision might have been different.

(source: 2002 MARS)

The next chart shows the results from the TGI Brasil study.  In Latin America, household income is not traditionally used for a variety of reasons.  Instead, the benchmark is the socio-economic level of households.  In the case of Brazil, we have used a three-way break: AB, C and DE.  This correspondence map show the same type of socio-economic stratification.  The socio-economic level contains three different dimensions --- income, education and occupational prestige.  Each dimension by itself may not be sufficient to determine class-based leisure activities.  But it is the educational background that provides the experience and knowledge to engage in activities that are economically accessible and appropriate to one's social prestige.  The best example might be attending the opera --- one is presumed to know something about operatic lore, to be able to afford the expensive tickets and to be aware that it is a socially desirable behavior.

(source: 2001 TGI Brasil)

 The final chart is the correspondence map between socio-economic level and leisure activities from the TGI Mexico study.  In this case, we have used a five-way socio-economic break: AB, C+, C, D+ and DE.  This correspondence map show the same type of socio-economic stratification.

(source: 2001 TGI Mexico)

 (posted by Roland Soong, 8/06/2002)

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