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Leisure - The Portent Of Leisure

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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.



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