Academic journal article Journal of Leisure Research

How Rural Low-Income Families Have Fun: A Grounded Theory Study

Academic journal article Journal of Leisure Research

How Rural Low-Income Families Have Fun: A Grounded Theory Study

Article excerpt


Family time together, whether it is a vacation or spring cleaning, has important implications for the family as a whole as well as for the individual family members. Both research and popular culture acknowledge the duality of family time. For example, popular comedy movies such as National Lampoon's Family Vacation and Johnson Family Vacation were based on the stress in family vacations. Research has concluded that families view leisure as not only involving play and satisfaction, but also involving work and effort (Shaw & Dawson, 2001). Despite the stress and effort, however, family leisure and play is essential to individual and family well-being (Csikszentmihaly, 1991; Fromberg & Bergen, 1998; Orthner, Barnett-Morris, & Mancini, 1994).

In a study of two-parent families using time-diaries, Shaw (1992) found that 38% of family time was spent in recreational or free-time activities. One of the underlying motives for such activities is fun (Shivers & deLisle, 1997). While most families may want to spend significant time together having fun, not all families have access to common types of fun and leisure activities. For example, community resources such as zoos or museums may not be available to all families such as those living in rural settings. In addition, when families live near or below the poverty line, they are forced to make many difficult decisions about how their limited resources are used. Low-income families may not have sufficient resources (e.g., free time, financial) to participate in available leisure activities that are available and may therefore suffer from a leisure shortage (Bittman, 1998). Since families in poverty tend to experience increased stress, limited access to leisure may put them at increased risk by constraining their ability to ameliorate stress via leisure activities (Orthner et al., 1994).

Based on previous research, we have some ideas about what rural lowincome families cannot do for family fun due to limited access and availability, but we know little about what they actually do to have fun together. We need a better understanding of how rural, low-income families have fun together and the contexts in which fun occurs for these families. Therefore, the purpose of this qualitative study was to generate a theoretical model that explores what low-income rural families with young children do for fun from the perspective of mothers. Using a constructivist grounded theory approach we asked participants to discuss family fun from their own perspectives and using their own definitions of what they consider to be fun. That is, we did not give existing definitions of leisure and/or play to the families and these definitions were not presumed within the analyses. A family was defined as a mother with children; many of the mothers did have stable partners and when partners were present they were included as part of the family.

The findings from this study can be applied in many different areas. Leisure researchers will gain a better understanding of how rural low-income families have fun and the contexts influencing those choices. In addition, policymakers and rural advocates will gain a better understanding of an important aspect of rural and low-income families' lives. Extension educators and rural community service providers will learn about challenges faced by rural low-income families and strategies used by some families to make fun an important part of their life. Finally, play advocates gain an important understanding about what families with young children see as fun.

Literature Review

This study of how rural low-income families have fun together is informed by our theoretical perspective and the related literature. While this study is about family "fun" as defined from the perspective of participants, most available literature discusses family "leisure," with fun being viewed as an important aspect of family leisure. Therefore, we discuss leisure throughout the review of literature. …

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