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Commodification of Leisure: Impact on Lower Income Groups

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Leisure is an activity of individual interest, a choice made without much regard to economic, social or political pressures. Leisure is defined as ‘free time’; time that is not dedicated to working and earning an income. In economic terms, it can be defined as ‘a function of the demand for and supply of time’ (George, 1957). In the past decade, leisure has been commodifed and converted into a merit good. Therefore, is important to know the consequences of such commodified leisure on all strata of society. This commodification of leisure has led to changes in the leisure-consumption pattern and consequently brought about the exclusion of the lower economic strata of society from the leisure market. Much likeUnlike the market for any product, in the leisure market the equilibrium is set where demand and supply of leisure intersect, excluding those who cannot afford to demand leisure at the equilibrium price level[N1]This paper aims to examine the relationship between income, occupation and leisure and study the exclusion of the lower income groups by institutions due to the commodification of leisure. This paper also draws from the results of a primary survey, which reveal the influence institutions (like the media) have on leisure consumption, and the manner and extent of the commodification of leisure goods. It also indicates that government intervention can lead to inclusion of citizens, irrespective of income barriers.

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Inequality in leisure consumption dates back to feudal times. The class which owned resources enjoyed leisure as it could avail ample goods and services produced by the working class and indulge in what Veblen (1934, p.15) calls ‘conspicuous consumption’. With rapid technological advancement, the number of working hours has reduced per worker and has lead to a ‘new leisure class’. However, this is true only for skilled and semi-skilled workers. Unskilled workers (engaged in menial jobs) have to work for a greater number of hours to sustain their families. They also face the threat of what Marx calls ‘industrial reserve army’ (Haney, 1933). This reduces their number of hours available for leisure.

Demand for leisure, supply of leisure and changes in leisure consumption.

The drudgery and time consumed in the production process is reduced by technological advancement, leading to an increase in leisure time for the ‘new leisure class’. This has given rise to the development of industries, which utilize free time through entertainment. Media, as an industry, is constantly flourishing. With the passage of time, cinemas turned into multiplexes and 3D cinemas, in order to cater to a particular group of people. The commodification of leisure by the media through advertisements (by creating notions of being free and relaxed) has attached a price tag to leisure, leading to the exclusion of those who cannot afford it. The demonstration effect is prominent amongst the middle class for commodified leisure. A ‘need’ is created for commodified leisure by attaching utility to it. Earlier, owning a radio was a status symbol and a means of entertainment; today it is a subset of any mobile phone.

Exclusion in leisure market

  • The greater the fulfilment of material wants for the dignified sustenance of a family by lesser working hours, the greater the opportunity for leisure activities, which are needed to recharge an individual’s mind and body. This will lead to increased productivity. Programs like the Minimum Wage Act, Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act and the Below Poverty Line, set as a benchmark for subsidies, are unable to take care of an entire family’s sustenance.
  • ‘There is need for higher wages to be paid for overtime workers as this makes the individual better off’ (Ahuja, 2012).


Leisure Work

  • Initially, an individual is in equilibrium at point E on IC1, working for AL1 hours, earning OM1 and enjoying OL1 amount of leisure. If the worker decides to work overtime, he has to sacrifice L1L2 amount of leisure to earn OM2. If the wage rate is higher than the amount of leisure sacrificed, then the individual is in equilibrium at point H on IC2. This is assumed to enable him to sustain his family and in the future, be a part of leisure market, as he will work for fewer hours, increasing the time available for leisure. Inflation acts as a vicious agent for curtailment of real leisure to the lower income group or employees in the informal sector, as their incomes are not compensated for a rise in prices. This increases the pressure on them to work longer hours and earn enough to sustain their families. Similarly, the aged who depend on pensions suffer, as “their leisure is enforced into idleness” (George, 1957).



  1. Accessibility to leisure time and income are positively correlated.
  2. The commodification of leisure has led to the exclusion of the lower economic strata.

Results of the Survey

A survey was conducted and a target group of sample size 60 was selected, the sample was stratified on the basis of diverse cultural and economic backgrounds (20 of each income group). The respondents were classified into three income group categories i.e. i) Group 1 – lower income group earning Rs. 10,000 per month and below; ii) Group 2- Middle income further sub-divided into lower middle income group earning between Rs. 10,000 and Rs. 25,000 a month, and upper middle income group, earning between Rs. 25,000 and Rs. 50,000 a month; iii) Group 3- Higher income group earning above Rs. 50,000 per month.

Leisure activities were classified into various sub-activities, namely, intellectual activities, deviant activities (alcohol, drugs consumption), economic and self-employing activities, mass-media, excursion (outstation, resort), others (religious, indoor activities, hobbies) and no leisure time.

It was found that the number of working hours reduced with access to advanced technology for middle income groups; whereas for lower income groups, due to inflation, it became difficult for them to sustain their families and they indulged in self-employment or second jobs. Thus, for them, number of working hours increased while leisure time reduced.

Group 1

None of the respondents engaged in intellectual activities (reading books, discussion on current issues etc) as leisure activity. Over the years, a 5% increase in participation in deviant activities, as a form of leisure, was found amongst the respondents. Media (cinema, 3D cinema, theatre) was a common leisure activity for all three groups. However, Group 1 mainly engaged in watching movies at cheaper theatres. It is worth noting that with the commodification of leisure, 10% of all the respondents were excluded from the leisure market of mass-media due to inflation (two decades ago, a single ticket cost Rs. 30 approximately. Today, the lowest price is Rs. 100.) On an average, 1.3% of their income was spent on leisure activities; of which 0.75% was spent on mass-media. The attraction to media is due to publicity measures such as advertisements, posters and a general trend among other people of the same income group. It was found that over the decade, an addition of 15% of the respondents have no access to leisure time.

Group 2

In this group, over the past two decades, there was a 5%, 55% and 20% increase in participation in intellectual, mass-media and excursion activities respectively for leisure. Indulgence in the mass media as a leisure activity saw a 20% increase in the lower middle income group, whereas a 35% increase took place in the upper middle income group indicating that with increase in income, expenditure on leisure increases. 4% of their incomes were spent on leisure activities; of which 2.4% was spent on mass-media. It was found that price elasticity of demand for leisure among Group 2 was highly inelastic. The major attraction towards mass-media and excursion is due to exciting advertisements, trailers, and various offers of trips in magazine, newspapers, and the radio (F.M). In this group, almost everyone engaged in some amount of leisure.

Group 3

A 10%, 15% and 40% increase in participation in intellectual, mass-media and excursion activities respectively, was found among the respondents of Group 3. 6% of their income was spent on leisure activities; of which 2% was spent on mass-media. The survey revealed that excursion as a leisure activity is the most popular among Group 3 as it reflects their status. Elasticity of demand for leisure for this group is relatively inelastic. It was found that 5% of the people holding high end jobs in corporate sector have almost no time for leisure. However, this is out of choice to achieve and stay at a particular status, whereas the lower income group have meager or no time for leisure due to the need for basic survival. The common pattern, among all three groups, of increase in expenditure with increase in income can be represented through Engels curve.


The EC curve depicts the relationship between different levels of income and the expenditure on leisure. The survey revealed that the lower income group, earning Rs 10,000 per month or below, spent 1.3% of their income on leisure goods, whereas the lower middle income and upper middle income groups spent 3.2% and 4% of their income respectively on leisure goods. Respondents from the higher income group spent 6% of their income on leisure goods. Thus, as income increases, expenditure on leisure goods increases.

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‘Nature, form of various leisure activities as well as extent and periodicity of participation in leisure activities is influenced by the relationship between income and work. (Modi, 1985) . Similar results were found in the survey. In the lower income group, participation in deviant activities (the consumption of drugs and alcohol) is high. They also indulged in theatre and talkies to a great extent. However, a majority of them watch ‘Bhojpuri movies’, whereas amongst the middle income group respondents, cinema (particularly, multiplex and 3D) visits are very frequent, and for the higher income group, excursions are very popular and frequent.

It was identified from the survey that 15% of the lower income group people and 5% of the higher income group people do not have leisure time. However, all respondents from the middle income group had access to leisure time. Therefore, hypothesis 1 is invalid.

The survey revealed that, due to the commodification of leisure, 10% of the respondents from the lower income group were unable to afford the price attached to leisure and were excluded from the leisure market; additionally, 15% of the respondents from this group have no time for leisure activities. Thus, hypothesis 2 is validated.

Creating inclusion in leisure market

It is clear that the commodification of leisure by institutions ‘entails paying for leisure’ (Jenkins, 1981), leading to market inefficiency as those who cannot pay are excluded from the market. The lower income group is excluded resulting in inequalities. However, government interventions can lead to inclusion of all income groups. The government should build recreational facilities such as parks and make them accessible without any charges. This can lead to inclusion of all citizens and they can enjoy leisure irrespective of their income, age, gender. In Ontario (Amherstburg, Town), programs like ‘access to affordable recreation’ (web 1) and ‘every child plays: access to recreation for low-income families in Ontario’ (web 2) aim to promote participation of all inhabitant of Amherstburg in leisure activities irrespective of income, financial background, or age.


In the commodified leisure market, members of the lower income group, who cannot afford leisure, are excluded as they survive on subsistence wage rates. There is a need to pay overtime workers a higher wage rate to ensure maximum welfare of the worker and build a capacity (in terms of time available for leisure) to include them in the leisure market in the future.[N2] Although the media is the common source of leisure activity for all three income groups, the consumption pattern of leisure activities has changed. However, government intervention in the leisure market can lead to the inclusion of all citizens.


Ahuja.H.L, (1977), ‘Principles of microeconomics’, 19th edition, S. Chand and company Limited, New Delhi, 2012.

Jenkins Clive, Barrie Sherman, (1981), ‘The leisure shock’, Richard Clay Limited, Great Britain.

Modi. Ishwar, (1985) “Leisure, mass media and social structure”, Rawat Publication, Jaipur.

Veblen. Thorstein, (1934) “A theory of leisure class: an economic study of institutions”, The Modern Library, New York.

Journal Article

George Soule, (1957), ‘The economics of leisure’ Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, Vol. 313, Sage Publication. Inc, p. 16-24.


Amherstburg, Town, 2013. Access to Affordable Recreation: Policy. [online]. Amherstburg, Town, Available at: http://lin.ca/resources/access-affordable-recreation-policy, [ Accessed 23 October 2013].

Ontario task group, 2007. Every Child Plays: Access to Recreation for Low-Income Families in Ontario. Promising Practices. [online]. Ontario task group. Available at: http://lin.ca/resources/every-child-plays-access-recreation-low-income-families-ontario-promising-practices, [Accessed 23 October 2013].

[N1]How is it unlike any other product market? D*S set prices is true for all product markets, no?

[N2]Just a suggestion, a higher overtime wage, or a wage rate indexed to account for the effect of inflation? Ask Fatema what she thinks, this is quite minor.

[N3]The bibliography needs to be split into books and journals? While it is organized, is it being followed for all papers?


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