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It might be said that, whether conscious of it or not, everyone has a lifestyle. From this perspective, lifestyle refers simply to the defining characteristics or qualities of a particular way of life, be it of an individual, a nation, or an entire culture.

On the other hand, some argue that lifestyle is a Western concept, meaningful only to the citizens of affluent countries, not to those whose main concern is mere survival because of their absolute poverty. From this perspective, the concept of lifestyle applies only to variants of consumerism, a largely materialistic way of life that assumes: (1) that what one wants is entirely a matter of choice; (2) that almost all choices are within one's grasp; and (3) that consumer choices can and should be hierarchically ranked from the most to the least desirable, according to what the mass media and corporate enterprise decide is most worth having and doing. Underlying high-end consumerism is the belief that the most desirable lifestyle is dependent on having the most prestigious occupations, which are, in turn, associated with the highest incomes. The concept and its implications are closely connected to the values associated with extreme individualism, corporate capitalism, and an open market, preferably one that is global in its reach.

To critics, what is excluded from lifestyle is even more important than what is included. While most people would generally consider lifestyle to be a neutral or amoral concept, others, on looking more closely, see it as having an immoral side. Discussions of lifestyle generally exclude any thoughts of justice, respect for human rights, or fairness. In short, questions of "ways of being" are left out of the equation: We tend to forgo contemplation of what society has become and what it should be in pursuit of the favored lifestyle. This is innocent enough as long as people are truly ignorant of global circumstances, but it becomes increasingly inexcusable as the consequences of gross social inequity become better known and the income gap yawns ever wider.

Countries most closely identified with a consumer lifestyle include the United States (where shopping is the most popular leisure-time activity),
Canada, Western Europe, Japan, Australia, New Zealand, and a few others where post-Enlightenment "scientific materialism" has taken hold as the dominant way of seeing the world. In these generally democratic countries, the economy functions more or less according to the laws of supply and demandif people buy a lot of some good or service, then private businesses organize to produce as much of that good as they can and still make a profit (keeping in mind that at least some of the demand may be stimulated by advertising in the first place). People spend their money as they see fit with little interference by governments. As a result, the economy produces what is wanted by citizens who have the money to pay rather than what might be needed by impoverished members of society who cannot "vote" in the marketplace. In the end, the citizens of free-market countries have access to the most prodigious outpouring of manufactured goods and consumer services, both necessary and trivial, ever made available to members of the human species. Little wonder that in most market democracies many citizens seek social status and define their self-worth in terms of the quality and quantity of their personal possessions, particularly automobiles, houses and furnishings (especially home entertainment products), and clothes. Indeed, the accumulation of private goods is a defining characteristic of a consumer lifestyle. It is often remarked that even the average person in the world's wealthy consumer societies enjoys greater personal comfort and convenience, if not outright wealth, than European monarchs of only a few centuries ago.

Given its pervasiveness in the West, many people will be surprised to learn that the consumer society was, in effect, deliberately constructed. In the years following World War II, North America was endowed with great industrial overcapacity (war-time factories) and large numbers of underemployed workers (returning soldiers). At the same time, the general population, having endured the material deprivation of the Depression and subsequent wartime rationing, was quite used to living modestly. To break people of their habit of "underconsuming," American industry purposefully organized to encourage North America to become a throw-away society and embrace a consuming way of life. In 1955, retail analyst Victor Lebow argued that Americans should make consumption their way of life. He suggested that if they succeeded in making the buying and use of goods into a kind of ritual, they would find spiritual satisfaction and ego gratification in consumption. His point was that to keep the economy going things had to be consumed, burned up, worn out, replaced and discarded at an ever-increasing rate. Today, a multibillion dollar advertising industry is still dedicated, in part, to creating needs that some new or improved product claims to meet.

Technology has also played a major role in helping industry to persuade people that material goods will help to fill the spiritual void that gnaws at the heart of techno-industrial society. For example, television has so successfully sold conspicuous consumption that the world consumed as many goods and services between 1950 (when commercial television was launched) and the mid-1990s as had all previous generations combined. For all that, a growing number of studies show that there is no correlationindeed, there may even be a negative correlationbetween growing incomes and subjective measures of "happiness" in the world's richest countries. It turns out that money really does not buy happiness.

The Pollution Connection

The promotion of consumerism, however it is portrayed in the media, leads to increasing pollution, resource scarcity, biotic impoverishment, and other forms of environmental degradation all over the world. Moreover, while a quarter of humanity enjoys the benefits of material plenty, the negative impacts of economic growth contribute to the loss of health and life among the poor in every country.

The economic production process often creates a vastly larger mass of waste than useful product. The packaging, distribution, use, and consumption of the product produce still more waste. Waste becomes pollution when the level of contamination impairs the aesthetic quality or productive capacity of the atmosphere, water, soil, or landscape; that is, when ecosystems are significantly damaged. Of course, as members of a human-centered, materialistic society, we tend to pay the most attention to pollution when it affects our own health or the health of other commercially valuable species. However they are perceived, waste and pollution are the inevitable and sometimes pernicious by-products of a consumer society, and the consumer lifestyle is spreading around the globe.

It is of little comfort that despite the best efforts of scientists, engineers, and technological optimists, progress in solving our waste and pollution problems has been decidedly erratic even in the world's most "advanced" economies. For example, studies show that although a greater number of people recycle, more waste than ever is also being hauled to landfills and incinerated. Often seeming improvements in one problem area are wiped out by worsening conditions in anotherwaste simply has to go somewhere. In 2002, the North American Commission for Environmental Cooperation (CEC), an agency created under the North American Free Trade Agreement, reported in Taking Stock (its sixth annual study on pollution in Canada and the United States) that the total amount of toxic releases and transfers fell by three percent between 1995 and 1999. This slight decline was partially attributable to a 25-percent reduction in air emissions by the manufacturing sector. (It is probably also the result of economic restructuring, including the migration of some polluting industries or activities to developing countries.) However, reduced air pollution was offset by a 25-percent jump in on-site releases to land, a 35-percent surge in off-site releasesmainly to landfills, and a 26-percent rise in the waste dumped into lakes, rivers, and streams. Almost 3.4 million tons of toxic chemical waste were produced in 1999, roughly one million tons of that released on-site into the air. Almost 8 percent of total releases included chemicals known to cause cancer, birth defects, or other reproductive problems.

The following year, Taking Stock reported a continuing improvement overallthe reduction in industrial releases and transfers of chemicals in North America reached five percent in the six years from 1995 to 2000. However, there was a significant increase in toxic discharges among smaller manufacturing firms. A group of fifteen thousand industrial facilities across North America released and transferred 32 percent more toxic chemicals from 1998 to 2000. These facilities, with chemical releases and transfers up to 110 tons, represent the majority of polluters in Canada and the United States. Victor Shantora, acting executive director for the CEC, noted that "The small 'p' polluter might not grab the same headlines as a large power plant or chemical manufacturer, but their effect is being felt throughout the North American environment" (CEC 2003b). In Canada, these small 'p' polluters registered a 66-percent increase in chemical releases and transfers. In the United States, the same group recorded an increase of 29 percent.

Overall, wealthy industrial countries like the United States and Canada are responsible for more than 90 percent of the 350 million metric tons of hazardous waste produced globally each year. Approximately 65 percent of the world's economic production, consumption, and pollution is associated with cities in rich countries.

The World Resources Institute (WRI) describes the general problem of waste production in consumer economies in a particularly telling report, The Weight of Nations, released in 2000. This report documents the flow of certain materials through five of the world's most advanced, efficient, and wealthy industrial economiesAustria, Germany, Japan, the Netherlands, and the United Statesover a twenty-year period up to 1996. The WRI analysis shows that, despite successful waste-reduction measures for some contaminants, significant improvements in the efficiency of material use and a slight reduction in resource throughput per unit of gross domestic product (GDP), both gross and per capita processed output (solid, liquid, and gaseous wastes) generally increased; the extraction and use of fossil energy resources dominated waste flows in all countries examined; and except in Germany, carbon dioxide emissions rose in both total and per capita terms in all countries studied (the data on Germany were distorted by unification and by that nation's one-time shift from coal to other more efficient hydrocarbon fuels).

These results may come as a surprise to those who believe that increased economic efficiency and resource productivity (technological efficiency), combined with the shift to more "knowledge-based" sources of wealth creation, would significantly "decouple" the economy from nature. On the contrary, The Weight of Nations concludes unambiguously that the resource savings from efficiency gains and economic restructuring have been negated by population growth, growing consumption, and increasing waste output. Moreover, The Weight of Nations shows that despite the growing economic role of high-end services and other knowledge-based activities, modern industrial economies are carbon-based economies driven by fossil fuel; their predominant waste-generating activity is burning material.

The WRI study might actually be optimistic because it apparently examined only the energy and materials flows through the domestic economies of the countries studied. One may then ask how the data on resource consumption and waste generation would be affected if the calculations were corrected for trade flows. Does the embodied energy and material content of imported manufactured goods exceed that of exports? If so, the reduction in material consumption suggested by the modest decoupling of GDP growth from domestic energy and material use may be exaggerated.

Comparative Ecological Footprints

Ecological footprint analysis (EFA) provides another way to understand the problem of material throughputs in the modern world. The ecological footprint of a specified population may be defined as the area of productive land and water ecosystems required, on a continuous basis, to produce the resources that the population consumes and to assimilate its wastes, wherever on Earth the relevant land/water is located. Because of trade and natural flows, portions of any modern nation's eco-footprint are scattered all over the world.

Since eco-footprint estimates are based on the resource use and waste generation associated with final consumption by study populations, they provide a way to compare the ecological impacts of differing lifestyles. Recent national eco-footprint estimates underscore the fact that high-income countriesincluding the most technologically efficient economies examined in the WRI studyare the most material-intensive and polluting economies on Earth on a per capita basis. The bar graph shows the per capita ecological footprints (EFs) of a selection of countries across the income spectrum, from among the richest to the poorest on Earth. To facilitate comparison, the EFs are reported in hectares at world average productivity (data drawn from WWF 2002).

Note the enormous disparity between high-income "northern" countries and the poorer developing countries of the south. North Americans and Europeans typically consume ten to twenty or more times as much per capita of various resources as do the impoverished citizens of the poorest countries such as the people of Bangladesh and Sierra Leone; the wealthy therefore impose a correspondingly massive pollution load on the world's ecosystems.

Because of the finite volume of "ecological space" on Earth, it would not be possible to raise the entire world population to North American or western European material standards on a sustainable basis using prevailing technologies. The total eco-footprints of many densely populated high-income countries are already considerably larger than their domestic territories. Indeed, the world average eco-footprint is about 2.3 ha while there are fewer than 2 ha of productive land and water on Earth. Although the basic economic needs of a billion people have not yet been met, the world population has already overshot global carrying capacity. Humans are living and growing, in part, by depleting the biophysical resource base of the planet.

There can be little doubt that political factors help to maintain the disparity between high-income and developing countries. For example, the structural adjustment programs imposed by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank as a condition for development loans force borrowing countries to lower their standards of living and to export more minerals, timber, and food both to pay down their loans and to purchase imports from high-income countries. However, in the increasingly open global marketplace, developing countries must compete with each other and with first world subsidies for first world markets. This forces down the prices for developing countries' commodity exports in relation to the prices of the manufactured goods and services they must import. According to economist J.W. Smith, current terms of trade create a relative price difference that is even more effective than colonialism in appropriating the natural resources and in exploiting the cheap labor of less-developed countries. Remarkably, while developed countries claim to be financing the developing countries, the poor countries are actually financing the rich through low pay for equally productive labor, investment in commodity production for the wealthy world, and other dimensions of unequal trade.

Most significantly, many observe that the terms of trade and structural adjustments forced on third world countries are quite opposite to the policies under which the wealthy nations developed. This suggests that the power brokers of the developed countries know exactly what they are doing. Critics such as Smith claim that their grand strategy is to impose unequal trades on the world so as to lay claim to the natural wealth and labor of weaker nations. Intentional or not, the strategy is clearly effective: In the 1960s only $3 flowed north for every dollar flowing south; by the late 1990s the ratio was seven to one.

It is worth emphasizing here the extent to which wealthy industrialized countries are dependent on cheap commodities, particularly low-cost fossil fuel, to maintain their consumer economies. This reality is becoming an increasing strain on geopolitical stability. For example, both our highly productive intensive agriculture and almost all forms of transportation are directly or indirectly petroleum based. This dependence has, in turn, led to instances of aggression to control oil-producing countries thus assuring ready access to critical fuel supplies. (To some oil is certainly one of the motivating factors implicated in the 2003 war on Iraq.) It also encourages injustice, violations of human rights, and ecological degradation in order to extract oil as cheaply as possible. A clear example of this is the alleged genocide and ecocide committed by Royal Dutch Shell Oil in Ogoniland, Nigeria, a case that has been widely reported and is on trial in U.S. courts under the Alien Torts Claims Act (ATCA).

Although such gross human rights violations are particularly egregious, even normal day-to-day business activities that promote consumerism and the ever-expanding eco-footprints of wealthy consumers can be interpreted as a form of "institutionalized violence" if we continue these practices in full knowledge of the distant social and ecological consequences.


Worldwide, the urban poor tend to live in neglected neighborhoods, enduring pollution, waste dumping, and ill health, but lacking the political influence to effect improvements. Indeed, since the time of the Industrial Revolution in the late 1700s, the urban poor, particularly racial and ethnic minorities, have had neither the resources to avoid, nor the power to control, noxious hazards in the workplace or in their homes. These are the people who have borne the greatest ecological costs of two centuries of continuous material growth. Today, the consumer lifestyle of the world's wealthy elite imposes an unprecedented burden of pollution, ecological disintegrity, and global climate change on the world. The costs of this burden are paid most heavily by the most vulnerable members of the human family: the poor and people of color.

Indeed, some see an intensifying pattern of "eco-apartheid" throughout the world. Extreme examples of city-level environmental distress are found both in the industrial cities of the former socialist and communist economies and in middle- and low-income megacities in the developing world. Certainly, the urban environmental hazards causing the most ill health are those found in the impoverished homes, neighborhoods, and workplaces located principally in the poorer countries of the Southern Hemisphere.

The problem, however, is hardly confined to second and third world cities. Even in the United States, the geographic distribution of air pollution, contaminated waters and fish, toxic waste sites, and landfills, correlates strongly with the distribution of both racial minorities and poverty. People have therefore begun to speak passionately of the need to ensure environmental justice for environmentally beleaguered communities. Some analysts emphasize that the correlation between chronic exposure to ecological hazards and race is much stronger than that between exposure and income poverty. A National Wildlife Federation review of sixty-four studies of environmental inequity found sixty-three cases of disparity by race or income but race proved to be the more important factor. Similarly, the Argonne National Laboratory found that of U.S. population, 33 percent of whites, 50 percent of African-Americans, and 60 percent of Hispanics live in the 136 counties in which two or more air pollutants exceed standards.

To make matters worse, the evidence is clear that even in these enlightened modern times, rich neighborhoods are often better served by environmental law and regulatory agencies than are less advantaged ones. It seems that if a community is poor or inhabited largely by racial minorities, it will likely receive less protection than a community that is affluent or white. In his article "Decision Making," Robert Bullard has argued that:

. . . the current environmental protection paradigm has institutionalized unequal enforcement, traded human health for profit, placed the burden of proof on the "victims" rather than on the pollution industry, legitimated human exposure to harmful substances, promoted "risky" technologies such as incinerators, exploited the vulnerability of economically and politically disenfranchised communities, subsidized ecological destruction, created an industry around risk assessment, delayed cleanup actions, and failed to develop pollution prevention as the overarching and dominant strategy. (p. 3)

It seems that in the United States economic privilege and power not only insulate the wealthy from the worst effects of ecological degradation, but also confer additional protection under the law.

Personal Responsibility

While overconsumption, particularly in northern rich countries, is a major contributor to accelerating human-induced global change, the situation is not totally hopeless. Human beings are consumers by naturewe have to consume to survivebut informed consumers can learn to consume responsibly. What, then, can the individual do to reduce his or her personal "load" on nature? The fact is that making careful consumer choices can greatly reduce the negative impacts of one's personal lifestyle. For example, the most ecologically harmful consumer activities are associated with fuel-guzzling private automobiles and light trucks, diets rich in industrially produced meat, poultry and other products of intensive agriculture, home heating and cooling (including water heating), modern appliances, home construction and household water/sewage. Personal transportation, food, and household operations alone account for between 59 and 80 percent of total household environmental impact in several categories of pollution and environmental damage (see table).

Deciding to take public transportation, walk, or bicycle (generally reducing automobile dependence) in the city, switching to a mostly organic low-meat diet, living in a modestly scaled house or apartment and ensuring that it is adequately insulated, and using only essential, certified high-efficiency appliances are some of the best ways for residents of high-income countries

  climate change air pollution   water pollution   habitat alteration
source: brower, m., and leon, w. (1999). the consumer's guide to effective environmental choices. new york: three rivers press.
activity greenhouse gases common toxic common toxic water use land use
transportation 32% 28% 51% 7% 23% 2% 15%
food 12 17 9 38 22 73 45
household operations 35 32 20 21 14 11 4
subtotal 80% 77% 80% 67% 59% 86% 64%

to shrink their personal ecological footprints. Consumers can also demand "fair trade" goods (such as coffee and other third world agricultural commodities) that ensure adequate returns to peasant producers in the developing world.

Unfortunately, shifting consumer preferences alone will not create a green and fair economy. For example, the unfettered market is unlikely to provide the financial incentives that are needed to stimulate the private sector to take advantage of technologies that already exist and that could be used to increase resource productivity (efficiency) and conservation. Citizens everywhere should therefore also support their governments to undertake the ecological tax reforms (e.g., pollution charges and resource depletion taxes) necessary to move their economies into a more efficient conservation mode. No country can go it entirely alone. International cooperation in this endeavor is necessary to create and maintain a level economic playing field.

There are of course, more radical solutions. Increasing numbers of people are taking an additional step to reduce their load on the earth in the movement toward "voluntary simplicity." These individuals adopt less hectic and materially simpler lifestyles in an effort both to reduce their ecological footprints and to provide the psychological space needed to enrich their lives spiritually.

see also Activism; Environmental Justice; Industry; Mass Media; Popular Culture; Poverty.


Brower, M., and Leon, W. (1999). The Consumer's Guide to Effective Environmental Choices. New York: Three Rivers Press (for The Union of Concerned Scientists).

Bullard, R. (1995). "Decision Making." Chapter 1 in Faces of Environmental Racism, edited by L. Westra and P. Wenz. Lanham, MD: Rowman and Littlefield.

CEC. (2002 and 2003a). Taking Stock. Montreal: North American Commission for Environmental Cooperation.

Colborn, T.; Dumanoski, D.; and Myers, J. P. (1994). Our Stolen Future. New York: Dutton.

Goldman, B. (1994). Not Just Prosperity: Achieving Sustainability with Environmental Justice. Washington, D.C.: National Wildlife Federation Corporate Conservation Council.

Hardoy, J.; Mitlin, D.; and Satterthwaite, D. (1992). Environmental Problems in Third World Cities. London: Earthscan.

Haughton, G. (1999). "Environmental Justice and the Sustainable City." Chapter 4 in The Earthscan Reader in Sustainable Cities, edited by D. Satterthwaite. London: Earthscan.

Lane, Robert. (2000). The Loss of Happiness in Market Democracies. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.

McGranahan, G.; Songsore, J.; and Kjellén, M. (1999). "Sustainability, Poverty, and Urban Environmental Transitions." Chapter 6 in The Earthscan Reader in Sustainable Cities, edited by D. Satterthwaite. London: Earthscan.

Motavalli, J. (1966). "Enough!" E Magazine 7(2):2835.

Rees, W. E. (1996). "Revisiting Carrying Capacity: Area-Based Indicators of Sustainability." Population and Environment, 17(3):195215.

Rees, W.E. (2002). "Globalization and Sustainability: Conflict or Convergence?" Bulletin of Science, Technology and Society, 22(4):249-268.

Rees, W.E., and Westra, L. (2003). "When Consumption Does Violence: Can There Be Sustainability and Environmental Justice in a Resource-Limited World?" Chapter 5 in Just Sustainabilities: Development in an Unequal World, edited by Julian Agyeman, Robert Bullard and Bob Evans. London: Earthscan and Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

Robins, N., and Kumar, R. (1999). "Producing, Providing, Trading: Manufacturing Industry and Sustainable Cities." Environment and Urbanization, 11(2):75-93.

Smith, J.W. (2000). Economic Democracy: The Political Struggle of the 21st Century. Armonk: NY: M.E. Sharpe.

Wackernagel, M., and Rees, W. E. (1996). Our Ecological Footprint: Reducing Human Impact on Earth. Philadelphia, PA: New Society Publishers.

Wackernagel, M.; Onisto, L.; Bello, P.; Linares, A. C.; Falfán, I. S. L.; Garcia, J. M.; Guerrero, A. I. S.; and Guerrero, M. G. S. (1999). "National Natural Capital Accounting with the Ecological Footprint Concept." Ecological Economics, 29:375390.

Westra, L. (l998). Living in Integrity. Lanham, MD: Rowman Littlefield.

Westra, L. (2000). "Institutionalized Environmental Violence and Human Rights." Chapter 16 in Ecological Integrity: Integrating Environment, Conservation and Health, edited by D. Pimentel, L. Westra, and R. Noss. Washington, D.C.: Island Press.

World Resources Institute. (2000). The Weight of Nations. Washington, D.C.: World Resources Institute.

World Wide Fund for Nature. (2002). Living Planet Report 2002. Gland, Switzerland: World Wide Fund for Nature (and others).

internet resource

CEC. (2003b). "Latest News." Montreal: North American Commission for Environmental Cooperation. &ID=2529.

William E. Rees and Laura Westra

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Lifestyles is a term found in both popular and scholarly literatures, most often referring to health-related behaviors such as drug use and unsafe sex, various forms of deviance, and consumption choices. Two of the earliest uses of lifestyles are in the work of psychologist Alfred Adler and sociologist Max Weber. Unlike Freud, Adler viewed human behavior as oriented toward future goals rather than driven mechanistically by the past. In The Science of Living (1929), he employed the concept of style of life to describe the individuals way of striving toward a goal of perfection within his or her particular social context. In contrast to Adlers focus on the individual, Weber viewed lifestyles as socially structured, introducing lifestyle to differentiate between class and status. Weber argued that classes are defined by their relation to the production of goods, while status groups are differentiated according to their consumption of goods; the various ways in which groups consume goods cluster into distinctive lifestyles.

The common use of lifestyles in popular culture as well as in studies of health and deviance shares Adlers focus on the individual to explain behavior, often connecting deviant behaviors such as drug use or unsafe sex to individual life decisions. In the scholarly and policy literatures, variables such as nutrition, housing, risk-taking behavior, health attitudes and beliefs, and preventative health behavior are used as primary indicators of lifestyles. In particular, tobacco use, alcohol consumption, diet, and sexual and intravenous drug practices (e.g., prostitution, needle sharing) are used to predict negative health outcomes. Experts in this field agree that individuals who abstain from smoking and drug use, consume alcohol in moderation, eat a healthy diet, refrain from violence, and practice safer sex have better survival rates than those who do not.

While the use of lifestyles in the health and behavioral sciences centers largely on individual practices, a vibrant social science discourse, in the tradition of Weber, points out that risk factors such as those listed above are only proximate causes of disease. A more sociological approach thus examines these lifestyles in terms of the social factors that put certain groups at greater risk for these behaviors in the first place. For example, in A Plague on Your Houses (1998), Deborah Wallace and Rodrick Wallace argue that living conditions in low-income areassuch as overcrowding and persistent displacement due to urban renewalresult in outbreaks of substance abuse, violence, and contagious disease. Similarly, Carol Cunradi et al. (2000) demonstrate a causal link between neighborhood poverty and intimate partner violence. Other sociologists argue that deviant behavior does not inhere in particular individuals but is learned through social interaction. Contrary to the conventional wisdom of the time, Howard Becker, for example, in Outsiders: Studies in the Sociology of Deviance (1963), finds that marijuana smokers do not naturally adopt deviant behavior because of flawed personalities or psychological problems but instead have to learn from others how to smoke marijuana. Later work in the sociology of deviance led to the concept of subcultures, which are characterized by the social organization of deviance as distinctive lifestyles.

The concept of lifestyles also appears prominently in the culture of poverty debate (see Lewis 1966). The culture of poverty thesis, widely disseminated in the Moynihan Report (1965), holds that the qualitatively different values held by the poor result in deviant lifestyles, which in turn lead to continued poverty. This argument has been criticized by sociologists such as Herbert Gans (1972, 1995), Ann Swidler (1986), and Elijah Anderson (1999), among many others, for its lack of attention to structural factors such as unemployment, inequality, and discrimination.

The socially structured nature of lifestyles is also emphasized in the sociology of consumption. In his famous study, The Theory of the Leisure Class (1899), Thorstein Veblen argued that the wealthy translate their money into symbols of prestige through conspicuous consumption and leisure. Veblen connects lifestyles to social hierarchy and explains that the lower classes emulate the scheme of life of the upper class. For Veblen, lifestyles are always observable, external, and consciousin other words, conspicuousthat is, primarily enacted as vehicles for status and power.

Along these lines, economists, psychologists, and demographers explain lifestyles as sets of shared preferences. Tracing the development of American consumer culture, Lizabeth Cohen in A Consumers Republic (2003) reveals that after World War II, merchants and advertisers moved away from treating consumers as a homogeneous group. Instead, marketers sought to identify clusters of customers with distinctive ways of life and then set out to sell them idealized lifestyles constructed around commodities (p. 299).

Target marketing both reflected and indeed created particular consumption patterns, defined not only by material goods but also by cultural frameworks for how to live, particularly through techniques such as slice of life advertising.

Another seminal work in the consumption literature is Pierre Bourdieus Distinction (1984), which argues that the tensions of late capitalism are played out through consumption as social practice. In contrast to Veblen, Bourdieu emphasizes the habitual, internalized, and largely unconscious cultural practices implicated in lifestyles by explaining that peoples class positions predispose them to certain lifestyles, which they experience as personal and freely chosen. Thus, Bourdieu creates a map of ostensibly natural and individual lifestylescentered on tasteand reveals their socially patterned, cultural logic. His use of lifestyles is radically anti-individualist: Even seemingly idiosyncratic qualities such as ways of walking and talking are rooted in socially structured material inequality. Bourdieus approach thus marks a significant advance over sociologists whose use of lifestyle as a secondary marker of class position draws superficial correlations between lifestyles and other variables such as race, ethnicity, political orientation, education, and urban/suburban/rural residence.

More generally, social theorists of contemporary culture, such as Lears (1983), Campbell (1987), and Bauman (1998), do not see a tight connection between class and consumption, instead linking lifestyles to the growing identity crisis of modernity, thus marking a shift from Bourdieus structural analysis of the role of lifestyles in class reproduction. For instance, Don Slater contends in Consumer Culture and Modernity (1997), that In theorizing pluralization and identity crisis, two terms keep appearing: expertise and lifestyle. Both denote features of modern life which manage, assuage, and organize anxieties about modern identity and at the same time can be used to exploit and intensify them (p. 86). Lifestyles, which center on consumer goods, services, and experiences, thus become a vehicle for the modernist project of realizing the self. This centrality of lifestyles indicates, for some theorists, the instability of modern forms of social membership. Anthony Giddens, for example, argues in Modernity and Self-Identity: Self and Society in the Late Modern Age (1991) that the consumption of goods replaces the genuine development of the self. Since the 1980s, lifestyle has become increasingly detached from traditional demographic variablesclass, race, or gender, for exampleand has come to represent personal, voluntary choices about how to consume.

SEE ALSO Anthropology; Bourdieu, Pierre; Class, Leisure; Conspicuous Consumption; Culture, Low and High; Distinctions, Social and Cultural; Ethnography; Gans, Herbert J.; Giddens, Anthony; Habitus; Lewis, Oscar; Moynihan Report; Neighborhoods; Popular Culture; Poverty; Relative Income Hypothesis; Suburbs; Veblen, Thorstein; Weber, Max


Adler, Alfred. 1956. The Individual Psychology of Alfred Adler, ed. Heinz Ansbacher and Rowena Ansbacher. New York: Basic Books.

Anderson, Elijah. 1999. The Code of the Street: Decency, Violence, and the Moral Life of the Inner City. New York: Norton.

Bauman, Zygmunt. 1998. Consumerism, and the New Poor. Philadelphia: Open University Press.

Becker, Howard. 1963. Outsiders: Studies in the Sociology of Deviance. London: Free Press of Glencoe.

Bourdieu, Pierre. 1984. Distinction: A Social Critique of the Judgment of Taste. Trans. Richard Nice. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Campbell, Colin. 1987. The Romantic Ethic and the Spirit of Modern Consumerism. New York: Blackwell.

Cohen, Lizabeth. 2003. A Consumers Republic: The Politics of Mass Consumption in Postwar America. New York: Knopf.

Cunradi, Carol, et al. 2000. Neighborhood Poverty as a Predictor of Intimate Partner Violence among White, Black, and Hispanic Couples in the United States: A Multilevel Analysis. AEP. 10 (5): 297308.

Gans, Herbert. 1972. The Positive Functions of Poverty. American Journal of Sociology 78 (2): 275289.

Gans, Herbert. 1995. The War against the Poor: The Underclass and Antipoverty Policy. New York: Basic Books.

Giddens, Anthony. 1991. Modernity and Self-Identity: Self and Society in the Late Modern Age. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press.

Lears, T. J. Jackson. 1983. From Salvation to Self-Realization: Advertising and the Therapeutic Roots of the Consumer Culture, 18801930. In The Culture of Consumption: Critical Essays in American History, 18801980, ed. R. Fox and T. J. Lears, 138. New York: Pantheon.

Lewis, Oscar. 1966. The Culture of Poverty. Scientific American 215 (October): 1925. Reprinted in Urban Life: Readings in Urban Anthropology, 3rd ed., ed. G. Gmelch and W. Zenner. pp. 393404. Prospect Heights, IL: Waveland Press, 1996.

Slater, Don. 1997. Consumer Culture and Modernity. Cambridge, U.K.: Polity Press.

Swidler, Ann. 1986. Culture in Action. American Sociological Review 51: 27386.

Veblen, Thorstein. 1899. The Theory of the Leisure Class. Mineola, NY: Dover, 1994.

Wallace, Deborah and Rodrick Wallace. 1998. A Plague on Your Houses: How New York Was Burned Down and National Public Health Crumbled. New York: New Left Books.

Weber, Max. 1966. Class, Status, and Party. In Class, Status, and Power, ed. R. Bendix and S. Lipset, 2128. New York: Free Press.

Bethany E. Blalock

Jennifer M. Silva

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As the twenty-first century advances, consumers are demanding better servicing in business operations to help simplify their harried lifestyles. The progression of lifestyle changes, in combination with technological and global evolution, will influence the way business and marketing operations function. This article focuses on how family, job, cultural background, social class, social activities, and employment have revolutionized business and marketing operations.


Family life continues to evolve. In the 1950s in America, it was common to see larger families with several siblings. It was also common at that time for the mother to stay home to take care of the household and children while the father worked to support the family.

In American culture in the twenty-first century, one is more likely to see smaller families. It is also common for both parents to work outside the home to support the family and household. The role of the "traditional" mother has changed whereby she is out in the workforce pursuing a career and helping to support the family. In addition, there are many more single-parent homes. Because of both of these trends, many preschool children stay with day-care providers and many older children are at home alone for two or three hours after school until a parent gets home from work, making today's children more self-reliant than children in the recent past. The cultural shift in America directly correlates with U.S. Department of Labor statistics that estimated that employment of child-care workers would increase 36 percent or more for all occupations through 2012.

The amount of time that families spend together thus has changed significantly from previous generations. Working couples have lost an average of twenty-two hours a week of family and personal time between 1969 and 1999. This trend has opened up a market known as e-commerce as parents do not have the time to do the tasks necessary that were once part of their everyday life and still have time to spend with their children. Because of technological advances, however, businesses are providing time-saving services. For example, retail shopping from purchasing clothes to groceries may all be accomplished online, with those purchases being delivered right to one's door. According to the U.S. Department of Commerce, in the first quarter of 2005 e-commerce estimates increased 23.8 percent over the numbers from the first quarter of 2004, while total sales increased 7.8 percent during the same period.


In the past, businesses were managed very differently than they are today. Technology and its rate of advancement have revolutionized the way job objectives are met in business operations. For example, higher education has changed drastically because of technology. Online education, by providing flexible class schedules, reducing the time-taking courses, and making educational opportunities more affordable, is one response to the needs of adult learners. Because students can attend classes from their homes, the jobs of faculty and the business operations of higher education have changed notably.

The advancement in technology has taken over a large share of the e-commerce business in the everyday homes across America and global society. According to a survey conducted in July 2005 by AC Nielsen, a leading research firm, an amazing 724,000 Americans responded that they relied on eBay for their main support for income. Furthermore, the study identified another 1.5 million eBay users who stated that additional income was generated from selling consumer goods. Reported in 2004, 150 million eBay users bought and/or sold consumer goods valued at over $34 billion.

With this growing trend, the U.S. Postal Service and eBay launched a national tour to support small business and entrepreneurs since many eBay sellers use the U.S. mail for shipping. As the global job structure continues with the paradigm shifts that influence the way business

operations function, such partnerships will continue to be forged.


Business operations in the twenty-first century need to be especially conscious of the cultural differences and/or similarities of all countries. Advances in technology have made the world a global business operation. With one click of the mouse one can immerse oneself in a culture very different from one's own. Business conducted on the Internet and e-commerce is the melting pot of ideas, culture, and people that is not just limited to American society.

Language and Communication

According to Stefan Lovgren, a writer for the National Geography News, "The next four major languagesEnglish, Spanish, Hindi/Urdu, and Arabicare likely to be equally ranked by 2050, with Arabic rising as English declines." Corporations need to act on this trend, as this will surely influence business operations in the global marketplace.

The overall culture of an organization is reflected in behaviors that are considered the "norm" in both verbal and nonverbal communication. Americans tend to speak directly to one another, maintaining eye contact with the person to whom they are talking. Hand gestures are commonly used while making presentations or in one-on-one conversation to better explain a point.

Corporate Culture and Clothing

Generally, corporations determine any organization's corporate culture by defining a corporate mission statement and following this statement in their day-to-day practices. Proper business attire was once considered suits and ties for men and business suits for women. That is no longer the case in many organizations, especially in the high-tech industry where the business environment is more casual and jeans and slacks are now considered acceptable.


Jobs are no longer gender-specific in the American culture. Women, once relegated to administrative and support-staff roles, are now in upper-level management positions alongside or above men. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, between 1983 and 2002, the share of women working in the automobile body and repair industry tripled. Furthermore, the share of men participating in the field of dressmaking also increased dramatically during the same period. Gender is no longer a predetermination of a person's role in business and as the twenty-first century continues, more and more occupations should become gender-neutral.


What comprises social class? Is it the neighborhood in which one lives? The occupation one has? The income one earns? The wealth one has acquired? There is no generally agreed-upon definition of social class, but most people agree that social class does exist. Grouping people together and assigning them a status in society is as old as society itself.

The social class of a particular group of people influences the role of business and marketing operations. The key to success in business and in marketing operations is twofold. First, identify the market for the product. Second, identify the social class one is dealing with in that market. Businesses must become familiar with the customs and culture of the particular social class with which they are trying to do business.


Marketing to a particular group often incorporates depictions of social activities as a part of the advertising campaign. For example, Mountain Dew commercials once portrayed young teenagers riding mountain bikes and engaging in extreme sports. A commercial for Grey Poupon mustard portrayed upper-class adults using the product while being chauffeured in a luxury car. In both examples, the companies needed to verify who constituted the market for their product first. Second, they had to learn the characteristics of those people.

Playing golf is reinforced in the corporate culture in many organizations as an important social activity. Instead of remaining inside on a beautiful afternoon, the executives get to conduct business while on the greens. The social activity is an advantage for executives looking to "close a deal," or make a connection in other business circles.


Jobs have changed significantly because of technological advances and global influences. Many corporations do business at an international level, which requires travel abroad for many of their employees. With virtual conferencing becoming more widespread, business travel as it is known today will evolve and change. The technological development of the Internet will have major implications and influences on global business and marketing procedures.

Business operations must integrate new and different marketing procedures to keep current with the changing job market. The trend of online education has opened up the market for the consumer and the employee to teach and learn at home. The consumer of the twenty-first century has less time to dedicate to a brick-and-mortar post-secondary educational institution; schools that understand this trend will benefit. Changes in the corporate and postsecondary educational marketplace require lifelong learning by both employees and employers in order to service the consumer.

Marketing operations must embrace e-commerce, internal links via Intranets, and Internet marketing and retailing because these tools can extend business operations and create new opportunities for growth. As technology, lifestyle, and employment change, business and marketing operations must also change in innovative ways as a matter of survival.


Consumers today require businesses to provide them with convenience to help simplify their harried lifestyles. This requires business and marketing operations to be aware of the impact of such demographic variables as family, job, cultural background, social class, social activities, and employment. All these demographic variables play an essential role in business operations. Lifestyles and technology have both changed radically, and the global marketplace is a reality. The key to business success is to understand the diversity that exists in the global marketplace and to respond innovatively and swiftly to society's changing needs. Corporations that understand the lifestyle changes of the twenty-first century global marketplace will be able to thrive and continue to service their consumers.

see also Consumer Behavior ; Fads


Alexander, William M. (1999). An efficiency measure for a sustainable quality of life. Global Ideas Bank. Retrieved November 18, 2005, from

Lovgren, Stefan (2004, February 26). English in decline as a first language, study says. National Geographic News. Retrieved November 18, 2005, from

U.S. Department of Commerce. U.S. Census Bureau.

U.S. Department of Labor.

U.S. Postal Service. (2005, July 21). New study reveals 724,000 Americans rely on eBay sales for income. Retrieved November 18, 2005, from

Michelle Voto

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In public health, "lifestyle" generally means a pattern of individual practices and personal behavioral choices that are related to elevated or reduced health risk. Since the mid-1970s, there has been a growing recognition of the significant contribution of personal behavior choices to health riskin the United States thirty-eight percent of deaths in 1990 were attributed to tobacco, diet and activity patterns, and alcohol. Equally important, illnesses attributable to lifestyle choices play a role in reducing health-related quality of life and in creating health disparities among different segments of the population.

Lifestyles are born of a multitude of causes, from childhood determinants to personality makeup to influences in the cultural, physical, economic, and political environments. Thus, efforts to encourage good health practices should also promote environments that support them. A good resource for lifestyle information is

Dennis D. Tolsma

(see also: Behavior, Health-Related; Behavioral Determinants; Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System; Health Promotion and Education )


McGinnis, J. M., and Foege, W. H. (1993). "Actual Causes of Death in the United States." Journal of the American Medical Association 270:22072212.

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life·style / ˈlīfˌstīl/ • n. the way in which a person or group lives: the benefits of a healthy lifestyle. ∎  [as adj.] denoting advertising or products designed to appeal to a consumer by association with a desirable lifestyle.