Understanding the Role of Ethnicity in Outdoor Recreation Experiences

By Carr, Deborah S.; Williams, Daniel R. | Journal of Leisure Research, Winter 1993 | Go to article overview

Understanding the Role of Ethnicity in Outdoor Recreation Experiences


Carr, Deborah S., Williams, Daniel R., Journal of Leisure Research


Much of the research examining the influence of ethnicity on recreation participation has attempted to explain participation rates and patterns of minorities relative to the larger society. This work has focused on understanding the apparent under-participation of minorities in most types of outdoor recreation utilizing two possible explanations: marginality and ethnicity. The marginality hypothesis explains under-participation as the influence of factors such as low socio-economic status, lack of access to desired facilities, and discrimination. The ethnicity explanation holds that under-participation is the result of subcultural differences in values and expectations related to outdoor recreation experiences (Hutchison, 1988; Washburne, 1978).

A consistent finding of several studies that examined the marginality/ethnicity framework is that ethnic differences in participation rates remain even when socio-economic factors are held constant (Antunes & Gaitz, 1975; Hutchison & Fidel, 1978; McMillen, 1983; Washburne, 1978). While these studies have provided some explanation of the variation in recreation participation rates across ethnic groups, few studies have attempted to directly measure ethnic/cultural characteristics and identify their role in creating distinctively ethnic styles of outdoor recreation participation. A major reason is how ethnicity has been defined and measured (Ewert, Gramann, & Floyd, 1991). These studies have treated various ethnic groups as homogeneous entities, using census designations such as black or Hispanic to represent ethnicity. The result is that important intra-ethnic variation is ignored including cultural origins (e.g., differences between Hispanics of Cuban versus Mexican origin), and the degree to which one identifies with his or her cultural origins.

Several more recent studies address intra-ethnic variation as a factor in leisure behavior. Klobus-Edwards (1981) examined differences between blacks living in predominantly black neighborhoods and those living in predominantly white neighborhoods. Woodard (1988) explored differences in leisure behavior between blacks raised in the urban North versus the more rural South. Simcox and Pfister (1990) explored differences in wildland recreation preferences and motivations between U.S. and foreign born Hispanics. Floyd and Gramann (1990) examined the influence of cultural and structural assimilation on outdoor recreation behavior among Mexican Americans.

A second weakness of much of the early ethnicity studies is the almost exclusive emphasis on participation rates in individual recreation activities (Ewert et al., 1991). Clearly studies of participation rates and patterns of participation are of value. They are not, however, adequate to provide full insight into recreation rates and patterns. Beyond knowing if or how frequently an individual participates in a given recreation activity, it is also important to understand the meaning or significance of participation (or lack of it) to the individual or group. Further, there is tremendous potential for differences in style of participation within a given recreation activity (e.g., social organization and on-site behavior) within and across ethnic groups. These qualities are unlikely to be identified using large-scale population surveys that compare recreation participation rates across ethnic group designations.

This paper concentrates on understanding the role ethnicity plays in outdoor recreation behavior. It is not possible or desirable to take on the task of elaborating all of the potentially important social structural variables here. Rather, as Ewert et al. (1991) argue, a more thorough treatment of the ethnicity concept may add more to the understanding of the recreation behavior than a cursory look at many variables. This is not to imply, however, that it is the only structural variable to have an impact on recreation behavior.

Ethnicity and Outdoor Recreation Behavior

Recent research on Hispanic ethnicity in outdoor recreation (Ewert et al. …

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