Academic journal article Journal of Leisure Research

"Like Precious Gold": Recreation in the Lives of Low-Income Committed Couples

Academic journal article Journal of Leisure Research

"Like Precious Gold": Recreation in the Lives of Low-Income Committed Couples

Article excerpt

Nearly one third of Americans are considered low income or poor, as are approximately one third of working families (U.S. Census Bureau, 2017). This includes the poor, those earning at or below the official U.S. poverty level of $16,240 for a couple or $24,600 for a family of four (U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HSS), 2017) and the near-poor earning between 100% and 200% of the poverty level (Roberts, Povich, & Mather, 2012-13). Adults who live in low-income neighborhoods often face considerable competition, even for low-paying jobs (Pendall et al., 2014). Individuals and families with limited incomes are "more vulnerable to the stress of economic instability caused by job loss, ill health, and fluctuations in housing, food, and transportation costs" than those with higher incomes (Heggeness & Hokayem, 2013, p. 1). Unfortunately, challenges related to financial stress can also hinder low-income couples' ability to cultivate healthy, long-term relationships (Randles, 2017).

Couples, particularly those in committed, healthy, long-lasting relationships, can provide a stable environment for themselves (Proulx & Snyder-Rivas, 2013) and for their children (Amato, 2000). Their pooled resources can also provide greater financial stability for them (Dougherty, 2001; Huston & Melz, 2004). "A stable, loving two-parent family is the optimal environment for children's health and development in our society" (Dougherty, 2001, p. 6). It follows, then, that strengthening the relationships of couples may help strengthen families as well. However, the relational and situational issues low-income couples face can make this challenging (Wood, Moore, Clarkwest, Killewald, & Monahan, 2012). The potential relational benefits of shared recreation (Crawford, Houts, Huston, & George, 2002; Orthner, 1976) could prove valuable for these economically disadvantaged couples.

Because much of the existing research has focused on individuals or families of middle income levels and on families rather than couples, little is known about recreation participation or benefits among couples living on low incomes and how they might differ from those of others. In fact, almost no research has been conducted on the influence of recreation on couple relationships among this economically disadvantaged population. The purpose of this exploratory study was to investigate recreation in the lives of low-income committed couples in married or marriage-like relationships. In particular, our objectives were to characterize what recreation activities couples engaged in, with whom, and where; what value they placed on their recreation participation; and what factors influenced their recreation engagements.

Related literature

Since few studies have specifically examined recreation among low-income couples, our review of related literature begins with an overview of low-income couples in general and the challenges they face. We then discuss leisure research related to couples and families to provide insights into the role of recreation in such relationships. Finally, we review studies addressing benefits of couple recreation, leisure interaction patterns, core and balance activities, and the Family Activity Model.

Low-income couples

All couples face relational challenges (Gottman, 1994). However, those who are economically disadvantaged frequently face numerous additional ones. These include lack, loss, or uncertainty of employment (Dakin & Wampler, 2008; Edelman, 2012); lack of access to a personal vehicle (Pendall et al., 2014); scheduling challenges (Flood & Genadek, 2016; Presser, 2000); and issues regarding physical health (Office of the Assistant Secretary for Planning and Evaluation (ASPE), 2015). Challenges in these areas can have detrimental effects on a couple's ability to sustain a healthy relationship (Ooms & Wilson, 2004). Financial pressures can lead to stress in intimate relationships, particularly among those who are economically disadvantaged (Jackson et al. …

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