Leisure and recreation: Experiences and limitations


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Content type
Family Matters article

May 1993


How do people spend their leisure time? Are they satisfied with their recreational activities? If not, what would they like to be doing? In this edited version of a paper presented at the fourth Australian Family Research Conference in February 1993, the author reports on the leisure and recreational behaviour of 1269 people who were respondents in the Institute's Australian Living Standards Study.

Participating in leisure and recreational activity can foster a range of positive experiences: from simple relaxation, fun and enjoyment to personal development and fulfilment, and improved health. Choices about types of activity and extent of involvement are not unilaterally made but are influenced by the demands and practicalities of every-day life.

This paper presents some of the findings from the Institute' Australian Living Standards Study undertaken in an outer Melbourne area. Leisure and recreation constitute one of the 14 'spheres of life'explored in the study. Here, discussion focuses on the leisure and recreational behaviour of 1269 people, comprising 717 adults, 193 secondary school teenagers, and 359 primary school children. Adults and teenagers were asked to complete their own questionnaires, while children' activities were reported on during interviews with parents.


Popular activities

Respondents were given a list of 26 leisure activities. The most popular item for both males and females was watching television or videos, with 74 per cent of men and 72 per cent of women watching 'often' and a further 26 per cent of men and 27 per cent of women watching 'sometimes'. The next most popular activity was reading newspapers / magazines - 'often' by 61 per cent of men and 57 per cent of women, and 'sometimes' by 35 per cent of men and 39 per cent of women.

When it comes to interaction with friends and family, men and women behave differently, with women (51 per cent) being more likely than men (36 per cent) to socialise with friends 'often', and with family (54 per cent of women compared with 38 per cent of men).

What these popular forms of leisure have in common is that they are essentially non-active/non-physical/passive, they are centred in or around the home, there is little or no cost involved, accessibility is relatively easy, and time and length of involvement is easily managed and can be changed at a moment's notice. These factors make it particularly easy to include or accommodate children in the activities, thus minimising or eliminating the need for or problems associated with child care.

Unpopular activities

Conspicuous differences in male and female behaviour were highlighted by the high proportions of adults who had not engaged in certain activities in the six months prior to completing their questionnaires. Women (80 per cent) were less likely than men (49 per cent) to play sport. They were also less likely to watch sport live: 64 per cent of women compared with 34 per cent of men had not done so in the six month period.

In contrast, men (67 per cent) were less likely than women (39 per cent) to engage in hobbies. Nor were men likely to indulge in cooking for pleasure - 63 per cent of men had not done this during the six months compared with only 17 per cent of women.

Were they satisfied?

Of all those dissatisfied because they wanted to do more of a given activity, a high proportion of men and women reported a desire to participate in a range of 'physical' and 'non-physical' pursuits. These were: going to the movies (men 50 per cent, women 52 per cent); going to the theatre and concerts (men 48 per cent, women 59 per cent); going to restaurants (men 48 per cent, women 51 per cent); going for a walk (men 50 per cent, women 56 per cent); going to the beach or bushwalking (men 52 per cent, women 55 per cent); and going for a drive/picnic (men 50 per cent, women 54 per cent). All these activities, both active and passive, necessarily occur away from the home.

Limitations to leisure and recreation

Figure 1 demonstrates that the barriers to leisure and recreation were time and money. Men were more likely than women to have their leisure activities hampered by their own work commitments, 53 per cent compared with 39 per cent respectively. In contrast, women were more likely than males to experience limitations because of family responsibilities, 58 per cent compared with 36 per cent respectively. These differences between men and women were largely confirmed when each was asked whether their own leisure activities were limited by their spouse's involvement with work or family. Close to half the men (46 per cent) and half the women were restricted financially. Put simply, the barriers to leisure activities were shortage of time and money.



Popular activities

Teenagers were given a slightly modified list of 21 leisure activities. The majority of males had engaged 'often' in a diverse range of pursuits while the majority of females had participated regularly in only a limited number. As with adults, the most popular activity was watching television or videos. A vast majority of teenagers had watched television and videos 'often', although proportions were higher for boys (87 per cent) than for girls (70 per cent). Interacting with friends regularly was reported by 59 per cent of boys and 55 per cent of girls.


Hereafter, male and female behaviour became more distinct, with differences being statistically significant. Sport was played 'often' by a much higher proportion of boys than girls (59 per cent compared with only 39 per cent), and watching sport on television 'often' was markedly more popular among boys (51 per cent) than girls (14 per cent). Another favourite among proportionally more boys than girls were board games, computer games and cards, these games being played by over half the boys (55 per cent) compared with less than one-quarter of the girls (21 per cent).

Unpopular activities

The least popular activities were cycling, skateboarding and roller-skating for recreation, with female teenagers less likely to do this than male teenagers (51 per cent compared with 17 per cent respectively). Girls (75 per cent) were also less likely than boys (59 per cent) to take part in water sports such as surfing and sailing, and less likely to watch sport live (girls 56 per cent, boys 28 per cent). The reverse was true when the activity was cooking for pleasure: consistent with adult male behaviour, boys (53 per cent) were less likely than girls (22 per cent) to partake in this activity.

Were they satisfied?

As with adults, teenagers were also asked to report on their satisfaction with the extent of their involvement in leisure and recreation. Again, discussion is specifically focused on those groups dissatisfied because they wished to increased their involvement in activities. Only total figures are presented because of the low numbers in the sample.

A desire for involvement in outdoor activities such as going to the beach and bushwalking was reported by almost two-thirds of teenage respondents (62 per cent). Over half the sample (52 per cent) reported their desire to be involved in water sports such as surfing and sailing; 56 per cent wanted to do more aerobics or swimming; 61 per cent mentioned concerts; and over half (54 per cent) reported a wish to go to movies. Although these activities represent a mix of active and non-active pursuits, the underlying theme is that they are not based at home.

Limitations to leisure and recreation

Figure 2 shows that 40 per cent of teenagers still at school reported that their opportunities were 'very limited' or 'limited' because there were 'no good places close to home worth going to'. Also lacking were places where they could get together or meet up with friends, reported by 29 per cent of teenagers. Money and time difficulties were also experienced by young people, each restriction being reported by just over one-third of young people (34 per cent). Another 29 per cent also reported the absence of transport, public or private, as limiting their leisure and recreation.


Popular activities

Of the six leisure activities presented to the parents of primary school children (Figure 3), the most popular for both boys and girls was visiting friends (boys 86 per cent, girls 90 per cent), again, a home-based pursuit. Parents reported that the majority of boys and girls had gone to the movies (64 per cent and 70 per cent respectively), and around two- thirds (boys 67 per cent, girls 64 per cent) had participated in informal sporting activities such as swimming, horse riding, and skateboarding.


Unpopular activities

The vast majority of boys and girls were not involved in music, art or drama, although boys were less likely to participate than girls (91 per cent compared with 77 per cent respectively). Over three-quarters of the boys (79 per cent) and three-quarters of the girls did not participate in organised groups such as cubs, brownies, guides and scouts. Further, over half the boys (58 per cent) and almost two- thirds of the girls (65 per cent) did not take part in organised sport.

Satisfaction with leisure and recreation

Commenting on the leisure and recreational opportunities available to their children outside of school, parents, reporting for 68 per cent of boys and 64 per cent of girls, were generally satisfied. Only 11 per cent of boys and 8 per cent of girls, representing a total of 32 children, had parents who were 'very dissatisfied' or 'dissatisfied'.


Leisure and recreational activities engaged in by the majority of adults, teenagers and children were generally passive or non-active, and tended to occur in the home. There is, however, a desire for more variety, particularly for activities outside the home. Shortage of time and money limited leisure opportunities for both adults and teenagers, along with the shortage of entertainment venues and transport difficulties reported by teenagers.

Choices about leisure and recreation, the type and extent of involvement, are subject to the practicalities and reality of one's life: it is much easier to constrain or vary leisure pursuits than to cut down on work/study or family commitments. It is with home-based leisure and recreation that constraints and variations can be most easily accommodated.