Race, Class, and Leisure Activity Preferences: Marginality and Ethnicity Revisited

Article excerpt

For several decades social scientists have been interested in questions involving race, class, and leisure behavior (e.g., Mueller & Gurin, 1962; Washburne, 1978; Klobus-Edwards, 1981; Stamps & Stamps, 1985; Yancey & Snell, 1976; Dwyer & Hutchison, 1990). The literature generally states that African Americans participate in many leisure activities at lower levels than Anglo or white Americans, or engage in different forms of leisure. Two explanations have been invoked to explain the divergence between blacks and whites, the marginality and ethnicity hypothesis.

The marginality hypothesis emphasizes minority status as a causal factor in explaining "underparticipation" among black minorities. It states that the under-representation of African Americans in certain leisure forms results primarily from limited economic resources, which in turn are a function of historical patterns of discrimination (Washburne, 1978). Stated differently, by occupying a subordinate class position, minorities have had limited access to society's major institutions which negatively affects life-chances and lifestyles, which is reflected in reduced participation in certain forms of leisure.

The second explanation, known as the ethnicity or subcultural hypothesis, states that minority underparticipation or intergroup variation results from differences between racial or ethnic groups in values systems, norms, and socialization patterns. This explanation suggests that regardless of socioeconomic standing, cultural processes are more important in explaining variation between blacks and whites in leisure participation patterns.

In a review article, Allison (1988) concluded that empirical evidence favors the ethnicity hypothesis. Yet others such as West (1989), O'Leary and Benjamin (1981), and Hutchison (1988) suggested that a consistent body of evidence in support of either has not emerged. This is due in part to the variety of methods used in and settings for conducting analyses (West, 1989). Given the present state of knowledge, it would be premature to conclude that documenting and explaining variation in leisure preferences between blacks and whites no longer contributes to the literature. Other reasons can be offered in support of continuing this line of research.

First, many studies published in research journals do not reflect contemporary patterns of race relations, class mobility, and leisure styles. For example, Thomas (1989:15) described the current status of black-white relations as "a regression toward social and economic decline for blacks, racial conservatism, and increasing racial isolation between blacks and whites" compared to gains made in the 1960s and mid-1970s. Within the black community, a fairly large middle class has emerged, to the point where a widening gap exists between it and the black poor (Wilson, 1987). New data are needed to reflect the changes in society not recorded in studies conducted in the 60s, 70s, and early 80s. Second, alternative analytical and methodological strategies have not been forthcoming. There have been few attempts to isolate and measure various dimensions of marginality and ethnicity. Third, despite increasing ethnic and racial diversity in the U.S. the black-white cleavage continues to represent the most salient ethnic cleavage in American society (Jackman & Jackman, 1973). Finally, replications of previous studies are needed to extend discourse, challenge existing interpretations, and stimulate new research on race, class, and leisure.

Related Studies

Since the 1960s a considerable number of studies of race, social class, and leisure behavior have been reported. O'Leary and Benjamin (1982), Stamps and stamps a (1958) and Hutchison (1988) provide excellent reviews of the early literature. For our purposes, we focus on more recent studies on race, class, and leisure preferences.

Washburne's (1978) research is widely viewed as the paradigmatic study on race, class, and leisure. …