Leisure Behaviors Among Selected Women Living in Poverty


  • Jennifer Scott
  • Ron McCarville


Poverty, Fee Assistance, Leisure Participation, Women, Lone Mothers


This research study explores the dynamics between leisure behavior and conditions arising from poverty. In particular, it focuses on the roles played by leisure for mothers living in poverty. The effects of a specific fee assistance program are then discussed within the context of these mothers’ lives. Seven individuals, recruited through a local not-for-profit agency, took part in semi-structured interviews that focused on their leisure behaviors. They were then asked about the fee assistance subsidy program (FAP) offered by the local city leisure agency. Two recurring themes emerged. The first was that of scarcity. Dealing with scarcity proved an ongoing challenge for these mothers. It crept into virtually every aspect of their lives. The second (and related) theme was that of chronic isolation. This isolation was both physical and social. For example, the women all expressed how they were constantly with their children and had little opportunity to interact with other adults on a regular basis. Within this context, we found that leisure played three fundamental roles in their daily lives. The first was that of bonding and companionship. Given the predominance of children in their lives, most of these mothers’ energies were directed toward their children. The second role was that of escape. Although these individuals often viewed leisure as a way to enhance family time, they also sought leisure as an outlet to escape the pressures of family life. The third role assigned to leisure was that of advancement. These mothers wanted to use leisure as a means of improving their own life conditions. In particular, they hoped to learn new skills through leisure participation.We were then interested in the ways in which these families were able to utilize the local FAP. This program provided leisure access cards to those who lived in poverty. Once applicants had established their level of need (through an application process), city staff assigned each family member an access card worth $50. Few of these mothers reported using the FAP card. One fundamental problem was its focus on program costs. Given that these women were all living in low-income settings, it was difficult for them to pay costs associated with participation in many leisure programs (babysitters, transportation, etc.). It helped little, for example, to offer free admission to a program that was too distant to reach or that required equipment one could not afford. This suggests that FAPs might be better envisioned as participation assistance programs. Their mandate might be expanded to ameliorate the effects of fees but also of transportation and any other constraints the individual must negotiate.?





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