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Definition of leisure

The sociology of leisure


Some authors hold that leisure has existed in all civilizations at all periods. This is not the view that will be taken in this article. Time-out is of course as venerable an institution as work itself. But leisure has certain traits that are characteristic only of the civilization born from the industrial revolution.

In the earliest known societies, work and play alike formed part of the ritual by which men sought communion with the ancestral spirits. Both these activities, although their functions differed at the practical level, had the same kind of meaning in the essential life of the community. Religious festivals embodied both work and play. Moreover, work and play were often combined. Conflict between them was either inconsequential or nonexistent, since play entered into work and became part of it. However, it would be going too far to view the shamans or witch doctors, who were exempted from ordinary labor, as a primitive form of “leisure class” in Veblen’s sense. Shamans and witch doctors undertake to perform magical or religious functions that are regarded as essential to the community. “Leisure” is not a term that can be applied to societies of the archaic period.

Nor was leisure, in the modern sense, to be found in the agrarian societies of recorded history.

The working year followed a timetable written in the very passage of the days and seasons; in good weather work was hard, in bad weather it slackened off. Work of this kind had a natural rhythm to it, punctuated by rests, songs, games, and ceremonies; it was synonymous with the daily round, and in some regions began at sunrise to finish only at sunset. After work came relaxation; but even then, it was hard to tell where one ended and the other began. In the temperate zones of northern Europe, during the long winter months, the period of hard work would give way to a kind of semi-active existence during which the struggle for survival was nearly always hard. The deadly cold was regularly accompanied by famine and disease. Inactivity, under such circumstances, was something to be endured; followed (as it too often was) by a train of misfortunes, it certainly had none of the characteristics of leisure as we understand it today.

The cycle of the year was also marked by a whole series of sabbaths and feast days. The sabbath belonged to religion; feast days, however, were often occasions for a great investment of energy (not to mention food) and constituted the obverse or opposite of everyday life. But the ceremonial aspect of these celebrations could never be disregarded; they stemmed from religion, not leisure. Accordingly, even though the major European civilizations knew more than 150 workless days a year, we cannot use the concept of leisure to analyze their use of time. Let us take the example of France. In his Projet d’une dime royale (a revolutionary proposal for impartial direct taxation, which was published in 1707 and immediately sup-pressed) Sebastien Le Prestre de Vauban used the term “unemployed” to denote these workless days; among them he singled out the “holidays” such days were often imposed by the church, against the will of the peasants and artisans, in order to promote the carrying out of spiritual obligations. Thus the poor man in one of La Fontaine’s fables (“Le savetier et le financier”) is made to complain that Monsieur le Cure “is always burdening us with a sermon on some new saint” (//. 28—29). In France at the beginning of the eighteenth century, there were 84 “holidays” of this sort, and to these should be added an average of about 80 days a year on which work was impossible because of “illness, frost, or personal business” (Vauban [1707] 1943, p. 18). Thus by the end of the seventeenth century, according to Vauban, French peasants and artisans (some 95 per cent of the labor force) had to reckon with 164 workless days a year. In those poverty-stricken times the majority of such days were not chosen; rather, they were imposed either by religious requirements or by lack of work.

Aristocratic and courtly leisure . Some authors, of whom de Grazia (1962) is representative, trace the origins of leisure to the way of life enjoyed by certain aristocratic classes in the course of Western civilization. But, in my opinion, neither the idle state of the ancient Greek philosophers nor even that of the gentry in the sixteenth century can be given the name of leisure. Such financially and socially privileged classes, cultured or not, paid for their own idleness with the work of their slaves, peasants, or servants. Such idleness cannot be defined in terms of its relation to work, since it neither complements nor rewards work but rather takes the place of work altogether. Of course, the aristocratic way of life has contributed in no small measure to the refinement of human culture; its ideal man was freed from work so that none of his capacities, physical or mental, should fail to be developed to the highest level. In ancient Greece, philosophers associated this ideal with wisdom; Aristotle himself argued that the work of slaves (that is, almost any form of manual labor) was incompatible with nobility of mind, and it is significant that the Greek word for having nothing to do (scholē) also meant “school.” The courtiers of Europe, after the end of the Middle Ages, both invented and extolled the ideal of the humanist and the gentleman. The idleness of the nobility never lost its connection with the very highest values of civilization, even though many of the nobles themselves might have been mediocrities or scoundrels. Nevertheless, “leisure” is not a suitable term for referring to the activities of these idle elites, since leisure in the modern sense presupposes work.

Modern leisure . For leisure to become possible in the life of the great majority of workers, two preconditions must exist in society at large. First, society ceases to govern its activities by means of common ritual obligations. At least some of these activities (work and leisure, among others) no longer fall under the category of collective rites but become the unfettered responsibility of the individual, even though the individual’s choice in the matter may still, of course, be determined by more impersonal social necessities. Second, the work by which a man earns his living is set apart from his other activities; its limits are no longer natural but arbitrary—indeed, it is organized in so definite a fashion that it can easily be separated, both in theory and in practice, from his free time.

These two necessary conditions exist only in

the social life of industrial and postindustrial civilizations; their absence from archaic and traditional agrarian civilizations means the absence of leisure. When the concept of leisure begins to infiltrate the rural life of modern societies, it is because agricultural labor is tending toward an industrial mode of organization and because rural life is already permeated by the urban values of industrialization. The same can be said of the agrarian societies of the “third world,” which are in the process of raising themselves to the pre-industrial level.

Definition of leisure

Having outlined the nature of leisure in general, we can now proceed to a more specific definition, since the numerous studies of leisure made during the last thirty years allow us to describe with some exactitude how the concept may and may not be applied. In the first place, leisure should be distinguished from free time, that is, time left free not only from regular employment but also from overtime and from time spent in travel to and from the work place. Free time includes leisure, as well as all the other activities that take place outside the context of gainful employment. The personal needs of eating, sleeping, and caring for one’s health and appearance, as well as familial, social, civic, and religious obligations, must all be attended to in one’s free time. Leisure, by contrast, will be described here as having four basic characteristics, two of which can be called negative, since they refer to the absence of certain social obligations, and two positive, since they are defined in terms of personal fulfillment. In a 1953 survey of concepts of leisure based on a sample of French laborers and white-collar workers, it was found that, in nearly every case, these four characteristics were closely associated in the mind of the respondent.

Freedom from obligations

Leisure is the result of free choice. To be sure, leisure is not the same thing as freedom, and it would be wrong to say that obligations have no part in leisure at all. However, leisure does include freedom from a certain class of obligations. It must, of course, be conceded that leisure, like other social phenomena, is subject to the operation of social forces. In the same way, since it is an activity, it must depend, like every activity, on social relationships and therefore on interpersonal obligations such as contracts or even agreements to meet at a certain time and place. It is likewise subject to the obligations that may be imposed by any of the groups and organizations, from athletic teams to film societies, that minister to its needs. But leisure does imply freedom from those institutional obligations that are prescribed by the basic forms of social organization. With respect to these institutional obligations, the obligations arising from leisure, considered as a form of social organization, always have a secondary character from society’s viewpoint, regardless of how heavy they may be. To employ a dialectical mode of reasoning, leisure both implies and presupposes the existence of the fundamental obligations that are its opposite; the latter must cease before the former can begin, and each can be defined only in terms of the other.

Leisure, then, consists first and foremost in freedom from gainful employment in a place of business; similarly, it implies freedom from study that is part of a school curriculum. Leisure also includes freedom from the fundamental obligations prescribed by other basic forms of social organization such as the family, the community, and the church. Let us call this class of institutional obligations “primary obligations.” Conversely, when a leisure activity becomes part of one’s job (like sport to an amateur turned professional), one’s studies (like a film show that all members of the school must attend), one’s family life (like a Sunday walk), or one’s religious or political obligations (like a political mass rally), then its nature, from a sociological point of view, undergoes a change even when its technical content has not changed at all and it affords the same satisfactions as before.


The disinterested character of leisure is the corollary, in terms of means and ends, of its freedom from primary obligations. Leisure is not motivated basically by gain, like a job; it has no utilitarian purpose, as do domestic obligations; unlike political or spiritual duties, it does not aim at any ideological or missionary purpose. True leisure precludes the use of any physical, artistic, intellectual, or social activity—in short, of any form of play—to serve any material or social end whatsoever, even though leisure, like any other activity, is subject to the laws of physical and social necessity.

It follows that, if leisure is governed in part by some commercial, utilitarian, or ideological purpose, it is no longer wholly leisure. Such leisure retains only part of its nature; we will therefore call it “semileisure.” Under these conditions it is as if the circle of primary obligations partially obscured the circle of leisure; semileisure is the area where the two circles intersect. This situation exists when the athlete is paid for some of his appearances, the angler sells part of his catch, the gardener with a passion for flowers plants a few vegetables for his own consumption, or the ardent handyman repairs his own house; it can even happen when someone attends a municipal function more for the show than the ceremony, or when an office worker reads a highbrow novel so that he can let the head of his department know that he has read it.

Leisure and diversion

We have defined what leisure is not by stating its relationship to the obligations and limits imposed by the basic forms of social organization. In order to define what leisure is, it is necessary to state its relationship to the needs of the individual, even when the individual fulfills these needs as a willing member of a group. In nearly all the empirical studies, leisure appears to be distinguished by a search for a state of satisfaction—a state that is sought as an end in itself. This activity is of a pleasure-seeking nature. To be sure, happiness is not simply a matter of leisure, since one can be happy while carrying out basic social obligations. But the search for contentment, pleasure, and delight is one of the fundamental characteristics of leisure in modern society. In this connection, Martha Wolfenstein (1951) has spoken of “fun morality.” When the desired state of satisfaction either passes or begins to wear off, the individual tends to give up the activity in question. Nobody is tied to a leisure activity by material need or by moral or legal obligations, as is the case with the activities of getting an education, earning a living, or carrying out civic or religious ceremonies. Although social pressure or habit may run counter to his decision to give up, the question of whether or not he is contented weighs more heavily with the individual in his leisure than in any other form of activity. The prime condition of leisure is the search for a state of contentment; it is enough to say “That interests me.” This state can consist in the denial of all tension, study, or concentration; but it can just as well consist in voluntary effort or even in the deferment of gratification. Whether the avocation involves battling against the elements, against a competitor, or against oneself, the effort of perfecting one’s performance or one’s wisdom can be greater than that spent on one’s regular occupation and may even approach the intensity of religious discipline. But it is an effort and a discipline that is chosen voluntarily, in the expectation of an enjoyment that is disinterested. The search for diversion is so fundamental to leisure that when the expected delight or enjoyment fails to materialize, leisure itself is denatured—a situation that is summed up by such remarks as “It was boring” or “It wasn’t entertaining.” Leisure, in such cases, is no longer wholly itself, but suffers impoverishment.

Leisure and personality. All the manifest functions of leisure, to judge from their effect on the persons concerned, answer to individual needs, as distinguished from the primary obligations imposed by society. Thus leisure is directly associated both with the possibility that the individual may deteriorate (for instance, if he becomes an alcoholic), and with the fact that the individual is free to defend the integrity of his personality against the attacks of an urban industrial society that is becoming less and less natural and more and more regimented and run by the clock. It is associated with the realization, whether encouraged or discouraged, of unbiased human potentialities —in short, with the whole man. Such realization, whether or not it accords with social needs, is conceived as an end in itself.

The positive functions of leisure can be summed up as follows. (1) It offers the individual a chance to shake off the fatigue of work that, because it is imposed, interferes with his natural biological rhythms. It is a recuperative force, or at least an opportunity to do nothing. (2) Through entertainment, whether of a sort permitted or forbidden by society, leisure opens up new worlds, both real and imaginary, in which the individual can escape from the daily boredom of performing a set of limited and routine tasks. (3) Finally, leisure makes it possible for the individual to leave behind the routines and stereotypes forced on him by the workings of basic social institutions, and to enter into a realm of self-transcendence where his creative powers are set free to oppose or to reinforce the dominant values of his civilization. Leisure in the truest sense of the word fulfills all three of these basic functions and satisfies the human need that corresponds to each. Leisure that fails to offer all of these three kinds of choice at any time is leisure that, with regard to the needs of the human personality in modern society, must be considered seriously defective.

The sociology of leisure

The importance of leisure in the development of our civilization was foreseen by social thinkers from the very beginning of industrial society. In some contexts Marx treated work in itself as the first need of man, but in others he qualified this statement by adding that work would become fit for man only when it had been transformed by collective ownership, automation, great increases in free time, and the transcending of the antithesis between work and leisure by the creation of the unalienated “whole man.” Comte and Proudhon differed from Marx in their conceptions of the society of the future, but all three attached great importance to conquering leisure by means of technological progress and social emancipation. And they all associated the growth of leisure with raising the workers’ level of education and increasing the part played by them in public life.

The realities of leisure in the twentieth century, as sociologists have observed them in both socialist and capitalist societies, have turned out to be more complex and less easily denned. The first modern pamphlet in favor of leisure for the worker was written in Europe by Paul Lafargue (1883), who was a militant socialist; its title was Le droit à la paresse (“The Right to Be Lazy”). But it was in the United States that the foundations were laid for the sociology of leisure by Thorstein Veblen’s The Theory of the Leisure Class (1899). Veblen analyzed the different types of idlers that he found among the bourgeoisie; he exposed the conspicuous consumption indulged in by the bourgeoisie in its quest for social status. But it was not until the 1920s and 1930s that there appeared, both in Europe and in the United States, the first empirical studies of leisure by sociologists. The introduction of the eight-hour day awakened both the hopes and the anxieties of social reformers, who wondered whether the extra free time would be used for self-improvement or for dissipation. In the U.S.S.R., the work of Strumilin (1925) inspired research on the “time budgets” of individuals, at the same time that the Soviet government developed an official policy on the organization of leisure. In 1924 the International Labor Office organized the first international conference on the free time of the worker; it was attended by 300 delegates from 18 nations. There was a general feeling that as the time spent on work decreased, leisure activities would have to become more organized (International Labour Review 1924). Research projects were launched in the United States; the most famous of them, by Robert and Helen Lynd (1929; 1937), devoted much space to the study of leisure activities, both traditional and modern, and to the way in which they were organized. In 1934 George A. Lundberg, in a study that has since become a classic, defined leisure as the opposite of those activities that are on the whole instruments to other ends rather than ends in themselves (Lundberg et al. 1934).

After World War II the sociology of leisure took on a new dimension and new levels of meaning. The United States was beginning to grapple with the problems of mass society, namely, mass consumption and mass culture. In this new context the paradox of leisure nourished a whole new crop of studies. In 1950 David Riesman’s The Lonely Crowd appeared, a work of which nearly one million copies have been printed and which has had a great influence not only in the United States but in every part of the world. Riesman argued in favor of the hypothesis that modern man, viewed in terms of his social character, has known only two revolutions. The first began with the Renaissance, when the “tradition-directed” man whose social character had been derived entirely from the community began to be governed by the norms and values of the family and so became “inner-directed.” Finally, about the middle of the twentieth century, the second of these revolutions appeared in those countries that had entered the stage of mass consumption and mass culture. In this period man has begun to be governed by the norms and values conveyed by the mass media of communication on the one hand and by peer groups on the other. Under such circumstances man becomes “other-directed.” Reflections on mass leisure were therefore central to Riesman’s theoretical perspective. A few years later there appeared the first collections of readings on the topic of “mass leisure” (Larrabee & Meyersohn 1958; Rosenberg & White 1957). Finally, decisive progress was made in the empirical verification of these new ideas on the relationship of leisure and culture in mass society (see especially Havighurst & Feigenbaum 1959; Wilensky 1964).

In Europe, during the same period, the sociology of leisure has made almost equally remarkable progress; the work of Georges Friedmann, in particular, gives a special place to the role of leisure in “relocating” man in a civilization dominated by technology. In England B. S. Rowntree and G. R. Lavers’English Life and Leisure (1951) has inspired a whole series of sociological monographs and research studies that have evoked considerable response in other countries, especially Holland. Large-scale public-opinion polling from 1954 onwards on the way in which young people spend their leisure is beginning to result in vigorous government programs stressing character building and the provision of facilities for leisure. With these problems in mind, in 1953 Joffre Dumazedier began the research that finally resulted in Vers une civilisation du loisir? (“Towards a Civilization of Leisure?” 1962) and in Le loisir et la ville (“Urban Leisure”) (Dumazedier & Ripert 1966).

In the socialist countries, likewise, the study of leisure has undergone expansion. For instance, in the U.S.S.R. during the period 1956-1962 the gradual replacement of the eight-hour working day by one of seven hours stimulated renewed inquiry, in the tradition of Strumilin, into time budgets and leisure-time activities (Prudenskii 1964; Petrosian 1965). The first empirical study of leisure in a socialist setting that made use of the very latest sociological research methods took place in Yugoslavia (Ahtik 1963). The empirical study of sociology has also taken remarkable strides forward in Poland, thanks to, the efforts of the Center for the Study of Mass Culture, which is affiliated with the Polish Academy of Sciences.


The sociology of leisure has made it possible, for the first time, to draw empirical comparisons between the working class culture of different or contrasting political and economic systems. In 1956 the first comparative study of leisure in Europe was launched, dealing with the leisure of workers in six European cities, each in a different country. The countries included in the survey were Yugoslavia, Poland, France, Finland, Denmark, and the German Federal Republic.

The vitality of the sociology of leisure has given rise to a number of problem-oriented approaches. Leisure has been studied in its relation to work (Friedmann 1958; Riesman 1964), the family (Scheuch I960; Anderson 1961), religion (Pieper 1948), politics (Upset et al. 1956), and culture (Kaplan I960; Dumazedier 1962; Wilensky 1964). It has been treated as a temporal framework (Prudenskii 1964; Petrosian 1965; Szalai 1966), a complex of activities (Littiinen 1962), a system of values (de Grazia 1962), and in several other ways.

The sociology of leisure also exhibits great methodological variety; it is not marked by adherence to any particular method, but by use of any and all available methods. Thus, although empirical studies are more common, we find a strong historical tradition, from Veblen to Riesman and de Grazia. The most important project now in progress concerns time budgets; it is a comparative study, using national samples from the German Federal Republic, Belgium, Austria, France, Hungary, Poland, and the U.S.S.R., directed by Alexander Szalai, a Hungarian scholar, under the auspices of the European Center for Coordination of Research and Documentation in the Social Sciences.

It is to be expected that in the future the different industrial and preindustrial societies will stand in increasing need of research, especially in order to: (1) measure the effective limitations of time, distance, money, and so on, that are preventing the transformation of free time into genuine leisure in the life of numerous classes and categories of workers; (2) evaluate the resources available for leisure in the cultural development of whole societies.

In the postindustrial societies now entering the phase of mass consumption, specific problems have arisen, and will continue to arise with even greater intensity. It is the ambivalence of leisure values in popular culture that will pose the greatest problems to sociologists. Will commitment to leisure values be balanced by commitment to occupational, associational, political, and spiritual values, or will leisure threaten all these other values, thus placing in jeopardy the active participation of citizens in directing the future of their society? Finally, since leisure values are themselves diverse, will the values of entertainment and unfettered personal development join forces to create a new ideal of individual happiness and social well-being? Or, on the contrary, will the values of entertainment, artificially hypertrophied by an irresponsible commercial system, come to play, in certain countries, the role of a new “opiate of the people,” while in certain other countries a unilateral and oppressive government policy for leisure activities risks truncating the complex phenomenon of leisure, encouraging boredom and malingering by way of reaction? In the last analysis, the whole future of man in industrial and postindustrial civilization is bound up with the answers to these questions. Today, they are the most important questions facing the sociology of leisure.

Joffre Dumazedier

[Directly related are the entries Labor force,article onhours of work; Time budgets.Other relevant material may be found in Automation; Communication, mass; Gambling; Industrial relations; Time; Workers;and in the biographies of Lundberg; Marx; Veblen.]


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The family has been, and continues to be, important to the study of leisure. Conversely, research on leisure provides valuable insights in understanding families and how they function, However, although family leisure is a concept studied around the world (Freysinger and Chen 1993; Dijk, Betuw, and Kloeze 1993; McCabe 1993; Samuel 1996; Wearing and McArthur 1988), there has long been controversy in defining the concept (Shaw 1997). This entry reviews the research on family and leisure focusing predominantly, but not solely, on scholarship conducted within the field of leisure studies in North America.

Meanings of Leisure

Leisure in Western cultures has been defined in many ways, most commonly as time, activity, and a state of mind (Kelly and Freysinger 2000). Central to each of these definitions is the concept of freedom or choice: leisure is discretionary time (time when one is free from obligation). Leisure is activity that is not required. As a state of mind, leisure is the perception of choice or of the freedom to choose. Concomitant with this freedom is the perception that leisure is positive or beneficial to the individual and/or society. This notion of leisure has its roots in ancient Greece, where leisure was seen as both freedom from the necessity of ponos (work or sorrow) and freedom for engagement with paideia (culture). Engagement in leisure would allow man to develop virtue or his full potential and in so doing, prepare him to be a good citizen and wise and just leader. Ignored for the most part in discussions of the history of leisure was the fact that leisure as freedom was available primarily to a group of elite males and was possible only because of a slave economy and the subjugation of women.

Since the 1980s in the West, the notion of leisure as freedom has been continuously challenged by feminist, Marxist, cross-cultural, and critical sociological scholarship. Research in these areas suggests at least three problems with defining leisure as freedom of the individual:

  1. This is a conceptualization that does not apply to most of the world but rather reflects a specific culture (Western) and its development, economy, and ideologies (industrial/post-industrial capitalism, individualism).
  2. This notion of leisure is androcentric and ignores the gendered experience of leisure, everyday life, and aging across the life cycle.
  3. This is a predominantly social psychological (and North American) conceptualization of leisure that emphasizes individual experience and ignores social relationships and structures, cultural practices, and historical context.

Thus, more recent scholarship defines leisure as legitimated pleasure, a social construction and means of social reproduction (Rojek 1996), but also as a place where individuals may resist, challenge, and even transform oppressive or constraining social relations (Henderson et al. 1996).

This changing understanding of leisure in Western scholarship was influenced by research in North America and Great Britain on family leisure and differences in girls', boys', women's, and men's experiences of family and leisure (e.g., Henderson et al. 1996; Wimbush and Talbot 1988; Lynd and Lynd 1929; Rapoport and Rapoport 1975). However, despite the fact that the family has always been the major context of leisure, leisure was predominantly studied and defined in relationship to paid employment or work. In the aftermath of the Civil Rights and Women's Rights movements in the United States in the 1960s, the social roles of females and males started to change (e.g., a broader spectrum of women pursued higher education and/or paid employment) and research began to be directed towards the lives of women and girls. Such changes in girls' and women's opportunities, and thus in their family roles and leisure activities, has occurred more recently in other cultures as well (e.g., India and Korea) (Robertson 1995), though hegemonic patriarchal patterns in family and leisure continue to dominate in some countries (e.g., Bangladesh) (Khan 1997), and continue to exist in all countries. In countries where Women's Rights movements have altered educational and employment opportunities, sociology of leisure and leisure studies has increasingly focused on the family, and important insights have been gained about leisure, family, gender, and their interrelationships.

Family's Influence on Leisure

Family is the major context of leisure (Shaw 1998). When asked about most important leisure, individuals, regardless of age or culture, typically indicate that time spent or activities pursued with family are most valued. It is within families that individuals learn leisure skills, interests, attitudes, and behaviors, and research has indicated continuity of recreation and leisure interests learned in childhood and adolescence across the life course. In addition, family and family members are common or frequent leisure companions throughout the life cycle. Families also construct time and opportunities for leisure, as well as constraints. However, the family's influence on leisure is often distinguished by gender, social class, age, race/ethnicity, and culture.

Parents have a strong influence on children's and adolescents' play and recreation. They facilitate, constrain, and shape children's development of leisure skills, interests, and participation in numerous ways: through their own leisure activities, the toys made available, economic support for lessons and equipment, and transportation to and from practices, activities, and events. For example, in Canada and the United States mothers have been found to be important to children's ability to participate in recreation. Mothers, even when employed outside the home, are often the ones who actually transport (or organize the transportation of children) to various activities, events, and entertainment venues (Henderson et al. 1996). Research in Canada suggests, however, that children, in particular adolescents, do not passively accept leisure constraints imposed by parents. Rather, many adolescents negotiate constraints (e.g., parents' unavailability for transport) in ways that allow continued participation in valued leisure ( Jackson and Rucks 1995). Further, the extent to which parents influence children's recreation and leisure, and how and why they do, varies by gender, social class, and/or race. Daughters are often more dependent than sons on parental approval and support for recreational activities; middle-class children have more independence and freedom from parents in their leisure than working-class children (e.g., McMeeking and Purkayastha 1995; Zeijl et al. 2000). Race and ethnicity are also important in shaping family's influence on children's leisure. For example, racial minority parents in the Netherlands and United States have been found to have concerns with children's leisure activities related to racism and being unwelcome that racial majority parents do not have (Phillip 1999; Zeijl et al. 2000). At the same time, recreation and leisure are also seen as ways to celebrate and pass on valued cultural and racial identities to children. The cultural values that shape racial and ethnic groups' leisure are not static, however. For example, Susan Juniu (2000), in a study of South American (Mexican or Hispanic) immigrants to the United States, found that cultural values surrounding work, social interaction, perceptions of time, and appropriate recreational activity changed with immigration, though this was mediated by the social class of the immigrants.

Adults' leisure is also strongly influenced by family. Much adult leisure is role determined (Kleiber 1999), that is, roles such as spouse, worker, parent, or caregiver have a tremendous influence on time, energy, economic resources, companions, and opportunities for, as well as the meaning of, leisure. The birth of the first child in particular—and the presence of dependent children in the home generally—has a dramatic impact on parental leisure. There is typically a shift from personal or joint (spouse/partner only) leisure to child-centered leisure. Women's leisure is especially affected by marriage and/or presence of dependent children. Research in Canada, the Netherlands, China and the United States suggests that women are more likely than men to give up personal leisure and to give priority to children's and/or spouse's (or partner's) leisure interests and engagements (Freysinger and Chen 1993; Shaw 1998). For example, in the Netherlands, despite research in the 1970s that suggested the family was becoming more symmetrical or plastic in terms of women's and men's roles, Simone van Dijk, Annita van Betuw, and Jan W. te Kloeze (1993) contend that such family structures exist in theory but not in practice. This is true regardless of age of the child (or children) and the mother's employment status. Further, based on her study of Canadian families' experiences of Christmas, Leslie Bella (1992) found that women are most often the organizers and providers of family leisure. This gendered construction of family and leisure has resulted in women experiencing family leisure (particularly when dependent children are involved) as semi-leisure whereas men are more likely to experience the same interactions as pure leisure. This does not mean that family has an absolute or only a negative impact on women's leisure. Rather, women also negotiate family constraints to leisure, report important satisfactions from family leisure, and may derive different meanings from their leisure than do men. Further, in Canada, the United States, and Bangladesh, gender has been found to intersect with other identities such as race, social class, sexual orientation, and able-bodiedness in shaping family's impact on both women's and men's leisure (Allen and Chin-Sang 1991; Bialeschki and Pearce 1997; Henderson et al. 1995; Khan 1997; Tirone and Shaw 1997). Further, research in Canada, Great Britain, the United States, and other countries indicates the experience and impact of family on leisure changes with age, as the demands of and activities in family and other social roles shift and developmental changes occur (e.g., Bialeschki 1994; Dupuis and Smale 2000), and across time as cultures are altered by economic, social, and political changes. For example, changing family structures in Korea at the end of the twentieth century has led to decreased intergenerational and interfamilial activities and increased intrafamilial activities (Robertson 1995). In France, Nicole Samuel (1996) has documented changing notions of vacation time for French families.

In summary, the family shapes leisure meanings and participation across the course of life and time in a myriad of ways. Family is both a source of leisure opportunity and constraint, reflecting the tension between individual wants/selfdetermination and societal norms/expectations of others. This tension is perhaps best illustrated in the gendered experience of family leisure and in cultural differences in perceptions and notions of leisure. At the same time, individuals negotiate family constraints to leisure and report finding freedom or leisure within constraint. Finally, how and why family is important to individuals' experiences of leisure differs across cultures and changes across age and time as family roles, responsibilities, and structures change, development occurs, and societal norms and cultural practices are challenged.

Leisure's Influence on Family

In addition to investigating the impact that the family has on children's and adults' experiences of play, recreation and leisure, researchers have also examined the impact that leisure interests and participation has on family satisfaction, family interaction, and family stability or cohesion. Although a popular belief is that "the family that plays together stays together," the research in this area indicates that leisure can serve to both facilitate and undermine family satisfaction, interaction, and cohesion.

Leisure is a way through which the parental role is enacted. Although mothers and fathers do not enact the parental role in the same way, both mothers and fathers report that leisure is an important context for the development of children. By teaching their children how to use free time constructively or by providing challenging and stimulating recreational activities, parents feel that they are facilitating the learning and growth of their children (Freysinger 1995). Further, leisure is seen as a context for the affirmation of family. Leisure with one's children and/or spouse provides a common interest and a context for interaction and is perceived by adults to strengthen bonds between family members and to provide a sense of family (Freysinger 1995; Orthner and Mancini 1990). At the same time, leisure interaction with children has been found to have a different impact on mothers' and fathers' satisfaction with being a parent. A study by Valeria Freysinger (1994) in the United States found that although mothers had more leisure interactions with their children than fathers, these had no effect on mothers' parental satisfaction. Other research (e.g., McClanahan and Adams 1987) indicates that mothers report both greater satisfaction with and stress from being a parent than fathers, which is one possible explanation for Freysinger's findings. On the other hand, leisure interaction with children was positively related to fathers' parental satisfaction. For both, however, marital satisfaction was the strongest and a positive predictor of parental satisfaction.

Indeed leisure has been found to positively related to marital satisfaction and stability and these relationships seem to be true across cultures (Orthner and Mancini 1990). Although preferences for joint or shared, parallel, and individual leisure vary over the marital career and differ somewhat by gender, in general the research suggests that the time spent in joint or shared activities is positively related to marital satisfaction for both husbands and wives. However, it is not just spending time together that is important to marital satisfaction. Rather, it seems to be the amount of communication that occurs during time together that is positively related to marital satisfaction.

Children affect the amount of leisure interaction spouses have with one another. Couples with children in the home tend to have less leisure interaction and that negatively affects satisfaction with the spousal/couple relationship. At the same time, children's effect on parental leisure is not uniformly negative. Children may provide new leisure interests and social networks for their parents. For example, adults with children involved in sport and physical activity are more likely than adults with no children or nonphysically active children to stay involved in recreational physical activity.

As suggested above, leisure may also be a source of tension or conflict within families. This may be because leisure connotes a freedom of choice that may contradict expectations that family members have of one another or that may challenge authority relations in some families. For example, in her study of the leisure of mid-life women and men, Valeria Freysinger (1995) found that leisure was a source of dissatisfaction with one's spouse and marriage when different leisure interests limited time for interaction. Some of the divorced men in this study reported that the different leisure interests they and their ex-wives had contributed to the dissolution of their marriages. Other reasons leisure may be a source of family conflict include inappropriate use of leisure or free time, changing leisure patterns, and conflicting circadian rhythms (i.e., a night person and a morning person) (Orthner and Mancini 1990).

In summary, leisure is both a source of family satisfaction and cohesion as well as dissatisfaction and instability. The relationship between leisure and family satisfaction, interaction, and cohesion is complex. A number of other factors (e.g., presence, number, and age of children, educational and employment status, stage of the marital career) likely mediate these relationships. For example, Deborah Bialeschki (1994) found that although leisure interruption was a common experience of U.S. women with children at home, once children left the home and active mothering demands decreased, a focus on self through leisure re-emerged in a process she called full-circle leisure. Stephen Goff, Daniel Fick, and Robert Oppliger (1997), in a study of "serious runners" and their spouses, found that leisure-family conflict was moderated by spouses' level of support for running. Such factors must be considered when seeking to understand the significance of leisure to family.

Emerging Issues and Unanswered Questions

This review of the extant research on family and leisure points to a number of issues, questions, and directions for future scholarship in this area including:

  1. Leisure and family are historically situated concepts that cannot be separated from culture and society; that is, one's experience and understanding of leisure and family are constantly being constructed and reconstructed, challenged and transformed in the interactions of individuals and contexts. It will be important for future researchers to be aware of the diversity of people's experiences of leisure and family and to explore this diversity in the way the research is conceptualized, the questions that are asked, and the populations that are studied (e.g., Acock and Demo 1994; Cheal 1991).
  2. Jennifer Mactavish, Stuart Schleien, and Carla Tabourne (1997) in their study of patterns of recreation in families with developmentally disabled children, asked the question, "Who is involved in family recreation most of the time?" They found that family leisure participants included both immediate family members and extended family members, all members of the family and subgroups (e.g., children only, parents only, one parent and all children) of the family. The most common pattern was subgroup leisure activity. However, much research on family leisure does not ask who is involved and in not asking this question what is meant by family leisure and the importance of family leisure is obscured.
  3. Most of the research on leisure and family has focused on adult perceptions and experiences. In one of the few studies that asked both parents and children about their perceptions of family leisure, Reed Larson, Sally Gillman, and Maryse Richards (1997) found that adolescent children experienced lower intrinsic motivation and less positive affect than parents during family leisure. Future research needs to further explore children's perceptions of family leisure, why they hold the perceptions that they do, and the developmental consequences of their experiences of family leisure.
  4. Although research has documented the interactive relationship between leisure and family, there has been little exploration of leisure as the expression or the creation of family. Research on serious leisure has revealed that in such leisure small worlds are created which provide individuals with a valued sense of identity and community (Stebbins 1992). An interesting question is to what extent leisure is pursued to create family—or whether families are created as a consequence of leisure. This question may become particularly relevant as 1) divorce, never marrying, and not having children become recognized as choices that people make rather than misfortunes that befall them; and 2) life expectancy continues to be extended and years not living within one's family of procreation increase.

See also:Computers and Families; Division of Labor; Marital Quality; Parenting Styles; Retirement; Television and Families; Time Use


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Leisure is one facet of the quest for meaning that continues throughout life. From earliest cognition to dying breath, meaningful engagement and self-validation appear to be enduring attractors. Two trends speak to the probable importance of leisure. During the course of the twentieth century, there was a vast expansion in access to leisure. At the same time, social demographic changes already apparentextensions of life expectancy, improving health status, and economic currents altering the nature of work and retirementalso speak to leisure's prospect. It is not too much to assert that leisure lifestyles have become a way of life for many segments of the population.

No doubt a great deal of significance and satisfaction is derived from work-related or familial activities, but leisure also provides highly nuanced opportunities to express, explore, and confirm personal agency, identity, membership affirmation, and life stage. Over the course of life the primacy of most roles shifts and shifts again, transforming as perspectives change as new agendas emerge. What is considered significant at one point may be of lesser importance at another, replaced by priorities previously either nonexistent or relegated to the periphery. With the progression through the adult years, several such changes are possible and in each instance the meaning of leisure may be redefined.

In characterizing leisure as a cradle of meaning and as a significant realm of social engagement and participation, it is important to view it as more than simply activity or time left over from other obligations. Early analysts often spoke of leisure as a residual category: the converse of work, a period of recuperation, or time to be filled after work was done. No doubt such a perspective is valid, in part, but leisure is also an independent domain subject to many of the same forces that shape the rest of the life course. If changes in the way work is performed come to pass and patterns of lifelong employment built on explicit career ladders become less prevalent, then the delineation of socially defined passages previously provided by work will also diminish. If so, alternative sources of meaning may emerge, based on what they can contribute to normative definitions of age, structuring of the life course, and personal identity (Han and Moen).

Among the ramifications of the globalization of production and accompanying economic transformation is that the relative salience consigned to productive roles and other realms of activity may be adjusted under certain emerging scenarios. Specifically, as people find themselves less reliant on their work roles for satisfaction as the structure of the workplace changes, the relative importance of alternative sources of meaning will shift. For example, if internal labor hierarchies are flattened, work is not highly agestructured, retirement occurs earlier or intermittently, or contingent employment akin to spot labor markets becomes the norm, the intrinsic meanings derived from work will be abridged and alternative opportunities for self-agency will be sought (Henretta). Even absent such changes, the subjective value of intrinsic work rewards declines with age (Crimmins and Easterlin), depending on financial wherewithal. In addition, many people never did find significant gratification in what they did to earn a living, or were not active in the world of work in the first place.

Types of leisure activities

How do older persons spend their free time? In what types of activities do they participate? What forms of leisure pursuits are most popular? Data from a variety of sources give us a good glimpse into the daily lives of older persons and the types of leisure activities in which they are currently involved.

Contrary to images of older people spending the bulk of their later years in a rocking chair kind of existence, evidence points to a far more active lifestyle. The 1995 National Health Interview Survey, for example, queried persons about their participation in leisure-time physical activity (exercises, sports, physically active hobbies). By this measure, only 34 percent of Americans sixty-five years of age and older reported not being engaged in any of these types of activities during the previous two weeks, as having what might be termed a "sedentary" lifestyle, and this figure represented a decline from 40 percent in 1985 (Federal Interagency Forum on Aging Related Statistics, Table 20). Similarly, viewing older persons as "engaged" in social activities would be an apt characterization. Findings from the Second Supplement on Aging to the 1994 National Health Interview Survey showed that in the previous two weeks 88 percent of persons seventy years of age and older had contact with friends or neighbors; 92 percent had contact with relatives not living in the household; 50 percent had attended a religious service, 27 percent had attended a movie, sports event, club, or group event; 64 percent had gone to a restaurant. And over the previous twelve months, 16 percent reported performing volunteer work. The majority of older Americans also appear to be quite satisfied with their level of social activity; only 21 percent reported they would like to be more active than they are presently (Federal Interagency Forum on Aging Related Statistics, Tables 19A and 19B).

A different and more in-depth glimpse into the daily activities of older persons is provided by examination of "time budgets." These studies ask persons to keep detailed records of how they spend their time during a given interval, for example, during the previous twenty-four hours. Employing this approach, Robinson, Werner, and Godbey have estimated the average number of hours men and women ages sixty-five and older spend weekly in a variety of activities. TV viewing leads the list for both men and women (26.7 hours/week for men; 26.6 for women). Substantial amounts of time are spent traveling (8.8 hours/week for men; 6.6 for women), communicating (7.8 hours for men; 8.0 for women), reading (7.2 and 6.8 hours, respectively), visiting (6.5 hours for both), and in pursuing various hobbies (3.7 and 4.4 hours). Men are more involved in sports than women (3.7 vs. 1.2 hours), women spend more time in religious activities (1.4 hours for men; 1.9 for women), and both spend about the same amount of time participating in organizations (1.6 and 1.5 hours per week, respectively). Other activities, such as education, attending events, and listening to the radio or stereo took up an additional 2.5 hours per week for men and 1.5 hours for women.

Comparable data from a German study (Horgas, Wilms, and Baltes) using a "yesterday interview" approach confirm the contention that older persons spend a greater portion of their day engaged in leisure pursuits than in resting or doing nothing. Among these respondents seventy years of age and older, more than seven hours a day were devoted to a range of discretionary activities such as watching TV, reading, socializing, and "other" leisure activities (e.g., cultural, educational, creative, church, and political activities; sports; gardening; walking; excursions; writing; playing; listening to radio/tape/record). Time spent resting averaged less than three hours a day, although this varied considerably by ageless than two hours a day among persons in their seventies compared to four and a half hours a day for those in their nineties.

The portent of leisure

Leisure and consumption are closely intertwined (Kammen). The fiscal parameters of the leisure market provides valuable testimony to the emerging importance of leisure pursuits. From the Wild West shows fashionable at the dawn of the twentieth century, to the popularity of traveling circuses and mechanized amusement parks between the two world wars, to the opening of the first of the family theme parks in the mid-1950s, the scale of the leisure market has expanded exponentially, reflecting the legitimation of leisure and diversionary entertainment. By the beginning of the twenty-first century, personal expenditures for leisure, entertainment and other discretionary diversions were estimated by some to be as much as $1 trillion dollars annually (Kammen). Add to that the $21 billion spent in 1996 by local, state, and federal governments on parks and recreation (U.S. Bureau of the Census, Table 504) and the scope of the leisure market begins to become apparent. One thing is clear, leisure consumption is big business. To put the figures in perspective, they totaled more than either housing or health care expenditures on a per capita basis at the same point in time. It is also the case that expansion of the contingent labor pool in the service sector, especially in entertainment and recreation hiring, has grown far more quickly than the overall U.S. economy (U.S. Bureau of the Census, Table 678). Any way it is analyzed, the commercialization of the leisure market is substantial, yet leisure-related expenditures represent only part of the picture.

The symbolic value of leisure may be more portentous than its commercial promise, especially if it is understood as a subjectively defined expressive domain that is discretionary, providing intrinsic rewards calculated in terms of personal meaning systems (Dittman-Kohli and Westerhof). At its heart, leisure can be an opportunity for self-discovery, exploration, and affirmation (Cutler and Hendricks, 1990). The connection between leisure participation and physical and mental well-being has been widely documented. Enhanced self-esteem, morale, sense of control, and cognitive and physical functioning, along with lower risk of fracture and mortality, are all linked to leisure participation (Andersen, Schnohr, Schroll, and Hein; Herzog, Franks, Markus, and Holmberg; Kelly; Reitzes, Mutran, and Verrill; Stebbins).

Leisure in later life is often discussed in terms of where it takes place and whether it involves active or passive pursuits. Previous research has pointed to a negative slope between rigorous physical activity and age; however, there is no real rationale for assuming that pattern will hold for future cohorts of older persons. In recent years, continuing education and voluntary activity have been seen as components of leisure, and both have been demonstrated to continue into the ninth decade and perhaps beyond. Another change concerns how social class, hierarchical access, and gender roles play out in the realm of leisure (Cutler and Hendricks, 2000). Despite an evolving conceptual framework, leisure studies are not immune from what some have described as the "busy ethic," in which visible activity is more highly valued than seeming nonactivity (Ekerdt; Katz).

Defining age-appropriate leisure is fraught with risk, not only because much of the research has been cross-sectional, but also because better-educated and healthier cohorts will manifest new norms in years to come. It is also relevant to point out that in many instances, what is work for some may be leisure for others; gardening may be no more than a chore for one person but a source of meaning and pleasure for another. Rather than identifying specific activities as leisure pursuits, researchers should permit participants to define for themselves what constitutes leisure. One dimension of leisure that results in great satisfaction revolves around the perception of "challenge." Activities and pursuits that permit participants to explore one or another of their limitations may provide maximally meaningful opportunities for validation of their sense of self (Guinn; Stebbins). A related dimension of meaningful leisure engagement promotes solidarity through a leisure-based interaction.

Because of its symbolic relevance and its links to a sense of well-being, leisure will be promoted as a consumer good and the size of the leisure market will grow as more and more people seek gratification in alternative, expressive roles. Gerontology must also attend to the same potential and to how individuals of any age derive significance in their lives.

Jon Hendricks Stephen J. Cutler

See also Disengagement; Education; Volunteer Activities and Programs.


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Crimmins, E. M., and Easterlin, R. A. "What Goals Motivate Individual Behavior." In Evolution of the Aging Self. Edited by K. W. Schaie and J. Hendricks. New York: Springer, 2000. Pages 159168.

Cutler, S. J., and Hendricks, J. "Age Differences in Voluntary Association Memberships: Fact or Artifact." Journal of Gerontology: Social Sciences 55B (2000): S98S107.

Cutler, S. J., and Hendricks, J. "Leisure and Time Use across the Life Course." In Handbook of Aging and the Social Sciences, 3d ed. Edited by Robert H. Binstock and Linda K. George. San Diego: Academic Press, 1990. Pages 169186.

Dittman-Kohli, F., and Westerhof, G. "The Personal Meaning System in a Life Span Perspective." In Exploring Existential Meaning. Edited by Gary Reker and Kerry Chamberlain. Newbury Park, Calif.: Sage, 1999. Pages 107122.

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Federal Interagency Forum on Aging Related Statistics. Older Americans 2000: Key Indicators of Well-Being. Washington, D.C.: Federal Interagency Forum on Aging Related Statistics, 2000.

Guinn, B. "Leisure Behavior Motivation and the Life Satisfaction of Retired Persons." Activities, Adaptation & Aging 23 (1999): 1320.

Han, S.-K., and Moen, P. "Clocking Out: Temporal Patterning of Retirement." American Journal of Sociology 105 (1999): 191236.

Henretta, J. "Social Structure and Age-Based Careers." In Age and Structural Lag. Edited by Matilda W. Riley, Robert L. Kahn, and Anne Foner. New York: Wiley-Interscience, 1994. Pages 5779.

Herzog, A. R.; Franks, M. M.; Markus, H. R.; and Holmberg, D. "Activities and Well-Being in Older Age: Effects of Self-Concept and Educational Attainment." Psychology and Aging 13 (1998): 179185.

Horgas, A. L.; Wilms, H.-U.; and Baltes, M. M. "Daily Life in Very Old Age: Everyday Activities as Expression of Successful Living." The Gerontologist 38 (1998): 556568.

Katz, S. "Busy Bodies: Activity, Aging, and the Management of Everyday Life." Journal of Aging Studies 14 (2000): 135152.

Kammen, M. G. American Culture, American Tastes: Social Change and the 20th Century. New York: Knopf, 1998.

Kelly, J. R. "Leisure." In Encyclopedia of Sociology. Edited by Edgar Borgatta and Rhonda Montgomery. New York: Macmillan, 2001. Pages 15811591.

Reitzes, D. C.; Mutran, E. J.; and Verrill, L. A. "Activities and Self-Esteem: Continuing the Development of Activity Theory." Research on Aging 17 (1995): 260277.

Robinson, J. P.; Werner, P.; and Godbey, G. "Freeing Up the Golden Years." American Demographics 19 (1997): 20, 2224.

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U.S. Bureau of the Census. Statistical Abstract of the United States: 1999. 119th ed. Washington, D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1999.

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leisure The release of the body from the tension and strain of work may be understood as a natural physical response to fatigue. Yet relaxation as a regulated right of human labour in the Western world emerged only in the nineteenth century, and ever since has been repeatedly checked by anxieties about mass leisure and by the dynamics of economic growth.

Many cultures share a 7-day cycle of 6-days' work with one day's rest and societies break up routinized labour with festivals. In medieval Europe, 100 holidays per year was common. Over time, holidays were extended with the addition, for example, of half-day ‘preparations’ preceding feast days. Workdays varied in length with daylight, weather, and the task to be done. The average was probably about 10 hours. As late as the eighteenth century, economists assumed that workers would work less if given increased wages, preferring more leisure to higher incomes.

Yet this image of a pre-industrial ‘leisure ethic’ must be qualified. Most festivals corresponded to lulls in seasonal work cycles, usually tied to agriculture. This explains, for example, the long season of holidays between October and February. Even holidays like midsummer (late June) and the English Wakes' Week (August) coincided with breaks in the farming work cycle. These holidays did not conform to the need of the body for rest. And many work-free saints' days and even Sunday were more of a privilege than a right, bestowed on the skilled and politically powerful urban male trades.

The growth of markets and mechanized production gradually undermined the traditional leisure culture but also established conditions for regular relaxation as a right. Religious reformers attacked both the length and unruly practices of festivals like Mardi Gras, especially from the second half of the sixteenth century. During the 1650s, English Puritans attempted to replace the irregular festival calendar with the weekly and subdued Sabbath rest. The attempt of the first French Republic in 1793 to create a 10-day week to replace the ‘Christian’ 7-day week and festival calender was merely an extreme example of a common effort of market-oriented reformers to increase the regularity of work. In the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, long festival seasons (like the week between Christmas and New Year) were reduced to single holidays. Employers also suppressed the informal practice among mostly privileged male trades of ‘Saint Monday’ — extending the Sunday rest into Monday. By the 1820s, by taking advantage of gas lighting, employers lengthened workdays in textile factories to 12 and 14 hours. They increased working hours in order to meet competition and to make efficient use of expensive machinery.

The demands of a market/mechanized economy for a more disciplined workforce led élites to attack the anarchic character of much of festival leisure. They opposed the release of physical and psychological tensions in bursts of boisterous play (drinking, gambling, and violent sport) that was common in the festival play of the popular classes. Wealthy English gradually withdrew their patronage of local festivals and even blocked access to popular sports fields and walking paths. Authorities outlawed violent, chaotic inter-village sporting matches and tried to license ale houses and other drinking places in hopes of reducing gambling, blood sports like cock fighting, and too-ready access to drink.

By the 1830s, more positive notions of relaxation were beginning to appear when reformers (doctors, clergy, politicians, and even some factory owners) began to recognize the social, biological, and cultural costs of overwork. The revival of the Anglo-American Sabbatarian movement was an attempt to prevent work and the market from invading the sanctity of Sunday rest and religious observance. And by the 1850s, factory owners in Britain were beginning to grant women workers a Saturday half-holiday in hopes that this would give them time to shop and clean in anticipation of a restful family Sunday.

In the 1830s and 1840s, reformers found the increased intensity, regularity, and length of worktime in mechanized textile jobs to threaten the education and growth of children. Long, exhausting hours for women seemed to undermine the female's ‘duty’ to produce children and to care for the family. These concerns culminated in the English 10-hour day law of 1847 for women and children in textile factories. American and European employers and governments only grudgingly granted the right to leisure, applying it in stages, first to children, then to women, and then to men in dangerous or especially fatiguing trades (like mining).

Victorian reformers also promoted new forms of leisure in ‘rational recreation’. The ideal was a leisure designed to restore the body, improve the mind, and compensate for the loss of domestic life due to the separation of work from home caused by industrialization. Among its many forms were the public parks intended to encourage family promenades on Sundays, the home-like atmospheres of YMCA reading rooms, and even ‘rationalized’ sports like soccer controlled by strict rules and referees that minimized injury and violence.

These ideas about recreation emerged from the middle classes. Although they trickled down to labourers, working-class leisure retained many aspects of the traditional festival culture. Rational recreation was best expressed in the suburban ideal of the bourgeois family home that had clearly emerged by 1850. There, parlour board games, oral reading of new family magazines, and outdoor sports like croquet could bind the family, sheltered from the disorder of the urban crowds.

Despite the success of the Ten-Hour Law, intellectual and business élites continued to fear that a legal limit to the workday would force businesses into costly investments in machinery and inventory, make industry less competitive in expanding markets, and undermine employers' social control over workers. Late Victorian and early twentieth-century intellectuals like Le Bon, Durkheim, and Freud were obsessed that freedom from work would unleash the passions of urban crowds.

Still others argued that regular relaxation should be a fruit of increased productivity and a necessity of more intense work. Scientific management, pioneered by the American Frederick Taylor in the 1890s, found that new pay and work methods and reorganized factories could increase individual output and make it possible to reduce daily working hours. Especially after 1912, trade unionists and reformers proposed a trade off of more intense and strictly managed work for an 8-hour workday. Beginning with Herman von Helmholtz in the 1860s, scientists began to understand the working body as a ‘motor’ with a measurable capacity for work and the need for regularly spaced rest. This concept challenged the view that the natural ‘laziness’ of workers could be overcome only by applying external discipline. Work scientists like Angelo Mosso believed that output could be optimized if exhaustion was avoided. Overwork reduced longevity, decreased fertility, stunted the growth of youth, produced insomnia and nervousness, and encouraged alcoholism and torpor. Efficiency in the human motor required daily and weekly rest breaks and even regularly spaced rests within the workday. The sophistication of work science grew during World War I, providing a powerful support for the 8-hour, 6-day week which became common in 1919.

In the 1930s, Western European workers won an annual paid holiday and Americans won a 2-day weekend. After World War II, these reductions made possible working-class tourism (especially in Europe) and suburbanization (especially in the US). In the postwar generation, a ‘perfect’ balance of work and leisure seem to have been achieved in the US, ideally based on wage-earning husbands working 40 hours a week supported by a homemaking wife in the suburbs.

Since the 1970s, complex economic and social trends have reversed the historical trend toward increased leisure time. Increased speed of communications and transport along with the rise of global competition have created the 24-hour economy and, with it, work at all hours. Economic maximizing and consumerism have induced workers not only to opt for overtime but to choose timesaving devices to aid in their leisure. This has meant a saturation of free time with leisure goods and their maintenance, thus creating what Staffan Linder calls a ‘harried leisure class’ of consumers. Decline in the rates of growth in the West from the 1970s and the rise of the Pacific Rim economies, where leisure time still does not match Western standards, has weakened the influence of Western labour and efforts to reduce worktime. The more than doubling of the rate of married women in the workforce since the war (from 25% to 61% between 1950 and 1981 in Britain) has undermined the domestic culture upon which family leisure was formerly based and has created serious pressures on women to stretch time between wage and caring work. Many two-income couples, especially those unable to purchase personal services, have experienced a ‘domestic speedup’ when the traditional realms of personal life — family care and leisure — are crammed into shorter periods of the week. Relaxation is an elusive goal, despite the increases in productivity that should make it attainable for all.

Gary Cross

See also relaxation; sport.

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Leisure is not an essential human characteristic or pursuit. Yet it has a history and a variety of cultural manifestations (in language, rituals, and recurring occasions and events) determined by a variety of historical settings. Through its bewildering array of forms, leisures only constant is its relation to work. Work and leisure are a mutually defining pair in their origin and through their historical development. Indeed, as work changed, so did leisure.

Originally, and still today among hunters and gatherers, humans had no abstract, general word for subsistence-related activities. The concept of work emerged with humans ability to control other humansprimarily with slavery. As humans recognized work as a distinctive cultural reality, so too did they begin to recognize freedom from work and control as leisure.

The combined human concept of work and leisure as figure and ground (as a mutually defining, historical pair) is demonstrated by some of the first words for the pair: The Greek word for work (a-scholia, meaning not leisure) was defined by its negative relation to leisure (scholê ), just as the Latin neg-otium (not leisure) was defined in relation to otium (leisure).

In the classical age and the medieval world, leisure was the basis of cultureit represented the privilege of the few founded on the slavery of the many. As Aristotle famously noted, for the rich and powerful, the purpose of work and economic concerns was the freedom to become more fully human by doing those activities that were more complete in themselves, such as the liberal (free) arts, philosophy, politics (including all forms of free civic engagement), contemplation, and celebration. Over the centuries, leisure became so identified with learning and culture that the Greek word for leisure (scholê ) developed as the etymological root of words for school and scholarship in many modern languages.

The positive view of leisure as works purpose and fulfillment persisted in the West until the Reformation, when, as a variety of scholars beginning with Max Weber recognized, the cultural valuations of leisure and work became reversed. Weber understood that the modern view of worksummed up as one does not work to live; one lives to workrepresented an historical revolution (Pieper 1952, p. 40).

After the sixteenth century, what Hannah Arendt called the modern glorification of work, and Joseph Pieper described as the rise of the world of total work progressively eclipsed leisure as the basis of culture. The spread of capitalism and the marketplace commodified and rationalized leisure as well as work. More and more kinds of previously free activities were drawn into the marketplace, and various products were being produced to be bought and sold.

In the modern age, leisure is no longer widely valued among the newly emerging business classes or their socialist critics as the freedom to realize human potential. Writers such as Thorstein Veblen and Friedrich Engels, defining humanity as Homo Faber (man-the-worker/tool maker) insisted that work was the essential human characteristic. Veblen saw leisure as an example of the conspicuous consumption of the rich, a dangerous example for society that tempted its productive members to forget that work was the foundation of human morality and solidarity.

Increasingly, residents of the West have tended to turn from leisure to work as the time to realize their humanity, as the glue that holds humans in society, and as the fundamental moral imperative. However, all have not been true believers in the Protestant work ethic; its later secularized version, the spirit of capitalism; or socialist work-utopias. Early in the nineteenth century, as labor was increasingly rationalized and brought into the marketplace, working classes in Europe and America began a struggle for shorter working hours that lasted over a century and cut work time nearly in half.

The primary motive driving this process, one of the longest and most broadly based social movements in the history of the Western world, was workers desire to have more leisure to spend with family, friends, and neighborsand, according to a popular nineteenth-century doggerel, to do with as we will. At the beginning of the labor movement in the United States, Philadelphia journeymen carpenters, after striking for a ten-hour work day in 1827, resolved that all men have a just right, derived from their Creator, to have sufficient time each day for the cultivation of their mind and for self-improvement. Union leaders regularly repeated these sentiments for over a century, fully expecting that the progressive shortening of the hours of labor would eventually elevate leisure to lifes center, reducing human labor to its lowest terms (Hunnicutt 1988, p. 322).

Ever since the founding of the United States, myriad believers in progress agreed that industry and the free market must eventually provide all people with enough necessaries, as well as the steadily increasing leisure to enjoy them. As early as 1794, the U.S. inventor Samuel Hopkins foresaw a two- or three-hour work day, an expectation repeated regularly until the 1920s and 1930s, when influential scientists and economists such Julian Huxley and John Maynard Keynes confidently predicted, on the basis of a century-long economic trend, that the marketplace would soon provide everyone with all that they might rationally need in exchange for two or three hours of work a day. Before the twentieth century ended, it was believed, leisure would replace the economy as mankinds primary concern.

Clearly, such predictions were wrong. Instead of the progressive shortening of the hours of labor, there has been little or no increase in leisure since the years of the Great Depression. In the early 1990s, the sociologist Juliet Schor presented a persuasive case that leisure had been declining over the previous three decades in the United States. These changes have coincided with the commodification and trivialization of leisure. More importantly, the nineteenth-century and early twentieth-century vision of the expansion of life beyond the pecuniary realm as a logical part of industrial progress has been forgotten.

Instead of following the lead of sociologists, educators, and economists of the early part of the twentieth century, who were trying to prepare the nation for the worthy use of leisure, social scientists now assume that leisure is valuable mainly because it contributes to recreational spending, and because it allows people to recuperate for more work and to adjust to the pressure of modern life. The millennia-long belief that as humans get enough of the things that money can buy they might then live a fuller and happier life by moving up to freer and better things has been obscured by the modern credo that eternal economic growth and perpetual work expansion and job creation are humanities summa bona. The concept of work without end has replaced the old dream of expanding leisure as humanities final challenge.

SEE ALSO Sports; Veblen, Thorstein; Weber, Max; Work; Work Day; Working Day, Length of


Arendt, Hannah. 1958. The Human Condition. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Aristotle. 1981. The Politics. Trans. Benjamin Jowett and Jonathan Barns. London: Penguin.

Hunnicutt, Benjamin. 1988. Work Without End: Abandoning Shorter Hours for the Right to Work. Philadelphia: Temple University Press.

Pieper, Joseph. 1952. Leisure, the Basis of Culture. Trans. Alexander Dru. New York: Pantheon Books.

Schor, Juliet. 1991. The Overworked American: The Unexpected Decline of Leisure. New York: Basic Books.

Veblen, Thorstein. [1899] 1994. The Theory of the Leisure Class. New York: Dover.

Weber, Max. 1930. The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism. Trans. Talcott Parsons. London: Allen and Unwin.

Benjamin Hunnicutt

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leisure may be defined as the amusements, entertainments, and creative pursuits enjoyed by people in their non-working hours. Our modern understanding of leisure is different from the classical ideal of the worthwhile pursuit of the arts by a leisured class freed from the necessity of work. Contrary to its innocuous image, leisure is in fact one of the most controversial and contested areas of British social and cultural history, with a tradition of class-related disputes over how leisure time should be spent and how far it should be controlled.

An underlying ruling-class fear has often been that the boisterous leisure activities of the people might spill over into political riot; witness the frequent banning of early town ball games and similar sports. At the same time, a policy of ‘bread and circuses’ was a familiar and much-used weapon in the ruling-class armoury for winning the consent of an unruly populace. Organizations sponsored by paternalistic employers, such as brass bands in north of England towns and workplaces, can be seen as part of this hegemonic strategy; while works outings, holidays, and sports events were often more than just the disinterested acts of generous employers. In reply, the working class would either accept the opportunities on offer—sometimes renegotiated to gain some level of control—or carve out their own areas of leisure, free from ruling-class respectability, such as dog-fighting and badger-baiting.

There is, however, little evidence of a nation-wide ‘social control conspiracy’ within the ruling class to use leisure as a pressure valve to defuse class tensions. Indeed there were more often conflicts within the ruling class over how to approach the issue. Some held to the classical ideal that leisure should be used for self-improvement, allowing the working class to educate themselves into their role in society. From this ideology came the Victorian ‘rational recreation’ movement, encouraging public libraries, museums, mechanics' institutes, and ‘pleasant Sunday afternoons’.

An alternative element in the ruling class was the entrepreneurs, who saw leisure as a commodity, and the working class as a new mass of consumers to be exploited. Thus much leisure activity in late Victorian times moved from participation to spectator status, with the boom in music-halls, variety theatres, pubs, holiday resorts, spectator sports, and the mass media of press, magazines, and eventually cinema.

These splits in the ruling class were echoed within the working class. Some adopted the aim of respectability, advocating self-improving leisure, sabbatarianism, teetotalism, and the like—a puritanical streak which became a pillar of the trade union and labour movement. The vast majority of the working class preferred a hedonistic approach, using the increasing leisure time of the 20th cent. (with the spread of paid holidays from work) for the simple, commodified, ‘packaged’ enjoyments of sport, gambling, holidays, music, dancing, hobbies, and mass media. By the end of the 20th cent. the leisure ‘industry’ had become one of Britain's economic mainstays.

Douglas J. Allen

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lei·sure / ˈlēzhər; ˈlezhər/ • n. free time. ∎  use of free time for enjoyment: increased opportunities for leisure [as adj.] leisure activities. ∎  (leisure for/to do something) opportunity afforded by free time to do something: writers with enough leisure to practice their art. PHRASES: at leisure 1. not occupied; free: the rest of the day can be spent at leisure. 2. in an unhurried manner: the poems were left for others to read at leisure. at one's leisure at one's ease or convenience. lady (or man or gentleman) of leisure a woman or man of independent means or whose time is free from obligations to others. leisure class a social class that is independently wealthy or has much leisure.

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leisure †freedom or opportunity; freedom from occupation, free time. XIV. ME. leisour, -er — AN. leisour, OF leisir (mod. loisir) :- Rom. sb. use of L. licēre be permitted.

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leisure •azure •leisure, made-to-measure, measure, pleasure, treasure •countermeasure •Australasia, embrasure •seizure •closure, composure, enclosure, exposure, foreclosure •Hoosier

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