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Conference Paper BHPS-2005 Conference: the 2005 British Household Panel Survey Research Conference, 30 June -2 July 2005, Colchester, UK

Leisurely moments or lifetimes: the longitudinal context in the study of leisure, consumption and stratification


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Much empirical evidence has suggested a strong relationship between stratification,
leisure, and consumption. Such links, moreover, occupy prominent positions in
several sociological frameworks. To date however, the mediating role of several
apparently contextual factors, upon these patterns, has seldom been considered. In this
paper, we evaluate three influences: the longitudinal context, in terms of accounts for
instabilities in short-term behaviours and differentiations between age, period, and
cohort effects; diversity of national and regional contexts; and variations in
stratification measures.
Data for this paper come primarily from the British and Swiss Household Panel
Surveys - 1991-2002 for Britain and 1999-2002 for Switzerland. The comparative
design allows us to explore variations by national contexts and regional opportunity
structures within the countries. For both countries, we also derive a number of
alternative but comparable indicators of social stratification positions (using
occupational and income data), and of selected self-reported leisure and consumption
behaviours. The panel data then allows us to control for both changes in stratification
positions and leisure/consumption behaviours, and temporal effects in terms of the
relative influence of age, period and cohort (although the shorter time-span of these
panel studies does limit this control). We then evaluate whether relationships between
leisure activities, consumption patterns, and stratification measures are substantially
altered when we control for contexts of time, place, and stratification measurement.
Our analyses initially replicate the findings of previous studies: strong associations
between stratification measures and leisure/consumption patterns are detected. When
we introduce additional controls for regional locations and alternative representations
of stratification, we see some small, but largely insubstantial, mediation to those
patterns. However, when we control for both short term instabilities in behaviours,
and for the joint influence of age, period, and cohort effects in a longitudinal analysis,
we find that our findings are more noticeable: they suggest that leisure and
consumption choices are strongly influenced by the 'longitudinal context'. For
instance, individuals who make many short-term transitions in leisure/consumption
behaviours have different stratification profiles to those who are more stable. Equally,
stage within the lifecourse is seen to strongly influence stratificationconsumption/
leisure links but in a manner which may change slightly over time.
Methodologically, the longitudinal context appears to be the most important of our
contextual factors, and we argue that it ought to be the 'lifetime of consumption',
rather than the instantaneous moment, which sociologists should appreciate.


Life Course Analysis, Social Stratification, and Social Behaviour



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