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The Concept of Lifestyle: A Review

Article  in  Leisure Studies · October 1993

DOI: 10.1080/02614369300390231

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Anthony Veal
University of Technology Sydney


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The concept of lifestyle: a review

A.J. Veal
School of Leisure and Tourism Studies, University of
Technology, Sydney, Lindfield, NSW, 7070, Australia
Version of record first published: 22 Aug 2006.

To cite this article: A.J. Veal (1993): The concept of lifestyle: a review, Leisure Studies, 12:4,

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The concept of lifestyle: a review
School of Leisure and Tourism Studies, University of Technology, Sydney, Lindfield, NSW
7070, Australia

The paper is a review of literature and an analysis of the concept of lifestyle and its relation-
ship to leisure. In the first part of the paper the review is divided into nine sections covering
Weberian, sub-cultural, psychological, market research and psychographics, leisure/
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tourism styles, spatial, socialist lifestyles, consumer culture, gender, and miscellaneous
approaches. In the second part of the paper a number of themes are identified and their
roles in defining lifestyle are discussed; these are: activities/behaviour; values and atti-
tudes; individuals versus groups; group interaction, coherence, recognisability and choice.
In conclusion, a definition of lifestyle is offered and a brief indication of a research agenda
is presented.

In an earlier paper (Veal, 1989), it was argued that the concept of lifestyle could
provide the basis for a 'pluralist' framework for the analysis of leisure, in contrast
to the fashionable neo-Marxist approaches of the 1980s. This idea was criticized
at the time from neo-Marxist and feminist standpoints (Critcher, 1989; Scraton
and Talbot, 1989), but the calls for more attention to lifestyle as an approach to
studying leisure remain. In addition to the call from Gattas et al. (1986) noted in
the earlier paper, Chaney (1987) concludes: 'If we are to get anywhere in disen-
tangling the cultural significance of different forms of l e i s u r e . . , we will have to
work on the constitution of Life-worlds and Life-styles...'. Moorhouse, criticiz-
ing neo-Marxist, feminist and 'traditional' analyses of leisure for their lack of
theoretical rigour, has suggested that concentration on the Weberian concepts of
status groups and lifestyle could provide a way forward in the social analysis of
leisure, avoiding some of the existing definitional contradictions in the literature
(Moorhouse, 1989, p. 31). In this he is given some support by Chas Critcher, who
sees 'status, lifestyle, pleasure and play' as 'middle-range concepts with the poten-
tial to link the currently disparate concerns of media studies and leisure studies'
(1992, p. 120).
Perhaps the most notable feature of the literature on lifestyle is the lack of con-
sensus on the meaning of the term, with at least 30 definitions being offered (Veal,
1991). While a number of valuable reviews of the concept of lifestyle have been
conducted in the past (Ansbacher, 1967; Bosserman, 1983; Gunter and Gunter,
1980; Horne, 1990; Mehrotra and Wells, 1977; Momaas, 1990; Sobel, 1981),
they have generally not spanned the full range of disciplinary approaches to the
subject a n d / o r have not related the concept to leisure. The intention of this paper,
therefore, is not to pursue the central argument about the role of lifestyle in leisure
research, nor to suggest ways in which research on leisure and lifestyle might be

Leisure Studies 12 (1993) 233-252 0261-4367 9 1993 E. & F.N. Spon

234 A.J. Veal
developed; rather it is to examine in more detail the multi-disciplinary origins and
uses of the concept.
Three spellings of lifestyle are used in the literature: it is presented as two
separate words: life style, as a hyphenated word: life-style, and as one word:
lifestyle. The single word format is used in this paper, except when quoting
authors who use a different format. Related terms used in the literature are: style
of life, way of life, culture, sub-culture, leisure style and, in the field of market
research, psychographics.
The Oxford English Dictionary claims that the earliest use of the term 'life-style'
was by Alfred Adler, the psychologist, who used it in 1929 to 'denote a person's
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basic character as established early in childhood which governs his reactions and
behaviour'. Georg Simmel used the term in Philosophie de Geldes, published in
German in 1900, but not available in English translation until the 1960s, and Max
Weber used the term in Economy and Society in 1922, but again this was not
available in English translation until much later. Ansbacher (1967) traces the use
of the term in French and German literature back to the eighteenth and even six-
teenth centuries. The concept of lifestyle was used extensively in American
research on suburbanization in the 1950s and 1960s (Bell, 1958, 1968; Marshall,
1973), and, while the term may not have been used explicitly, the antecedents of
the idea can certainly be seen in early community studies (e.g. Gans, 1969; Seeley
et al., 1956). The earliest users of the term in relation to the study of leisure were
Havighurst, in his research on the elderly (1959; Havighurst and Feigenbaum,
1959) and Wilensky in his studies of 'Organization Man' (1970). During the 1970s
and 1980s lifestyle, in its various forms, emerged as a major theme in a number
of areas, including market research and leisure studies.
The first part of the paper reviews a variety of research approaches to the use
of the concept of lifestyle, namely: Weberian, sub-cultural, psychological, market
research and psychographics, leisure/tourism styles, spatial, socialist lifestyles,
consumer culture, gender, and a miscellaneous group. These approaches encom-
pass a wide range of, often conflicting, theoretical and applied perspectives, arising
from a number of disciplines. No attempt is made to resolve these differences here;
rather, the aim is merely to draw together this disparate material and raise the
question as to whether the various contributions which use the same w o r d -
lifestyle - are in fact dealing with the same concept.
In the second part of the paper an analysis of the term lifestyle is presented
leading to a suggested definition. The analysis owes no allegiance to any particular
discipline or theoretical perspective, but attempts to distil the essence of the
lifestyle concept from the various contributions discussed.

In a chapter of Economy and Society, entitled 'Class, status and party', Max
Weber argued that divisions in society arise not only from class, which is based on
economic relationships, but also from status, which is based on honour. A 'status
group' is distinguished by the h o n o u r accorded to it by the rest of society, but also
The concept of lifestyle 235
by its particular style of life (Weber, 1948, p. 187). The style of life adopted by
a status group serves to mark the boundaries of the group and to reinforce the
honour system which underpins the group's status. The examples Weber gave to
illustrate the phenomenon included certain ethnic, hereditary and caste groups
which were generally somewhat exceptional groups within contemporary society
or were historically and geographically specific. Some doubt might therefore be
expressed as to whether the concept of status groups applies to contemporary
society as a whole - that is, whether everyone in contemporary western society
might be seen as being a member of a status group as well as a member of a class.
It has been argued that Weber's conception of lifestyle is not independent of class
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but is merely one manifestation of class membership (Critcher, 1989). Bourdieu's

work in Distinction (1984) reflects this idea; Bourdieu demonstrates how infinite
variations in cultural capital, leisure and taste (lifestyle) reflect the infinite varia-
tion in the economic capital and power of classes and class fractions throughout
society. Researchers in the area of 'status politics' and the 'politics of lifestyle con-
cern' however, argue that political struggle can be concerned with non-economic
issues, particularly moral issues. Concern for such issues and the desire to resist
or institute change in relation to them arise from people's identification with a par-
ticular style of life rather than from their membership of a class (Gusfield, 1962,
1963; Lorentzen, 1980; Page and Clelland, 1978; Staggenborg, 1987; Zurcher
et al., 1971).
While Weber outlined the function of lifestyle, and while he gave illustrative
examples of status groups, he did not define lifestyle as such. Weber's own
examples and those of the 'politics of lifestyle concern' school suggest that lifestyle
includes religious practices, moral values, style of dress, sexual behaviour, and the
drinking or non-drinking of alcohol. While this list is suggestive, it does not con-
stitute a comprehensive definition.
Scheys (1986) extends the Weberian concept in arguing that lifestyle is in essence
a system of sets of symbols, or symbolic acts/behaviours associated with different
prestige groups in society. The systems of values which are the criteria for judging
levels of prestige are determined by those in society who wield 'cultural power'.
Therefore lifestyle, in Scheys' view, is not just a matter of patterns of behaviour
reflecting other social processes but is the very mechanism through which differen-
tial power is wielded in society.
The literature on sub-cultures has not been thoroughly reviewed for this paper, so
any conclusions drawn must be seen as particularly tentative. Insofar as culture
and sub-culture involve shared values and a shared way of life, they have much in
common with some definitions of lifestyle. Implicit in the idea of sub-culture is that
there is a mainstream culture, of which most members of a given society are part,
but that certain groups within that mainstream or parent culture develop varia-
tions of the culture, sufficiently distinctive to merit separate recognition and study.
Studies of sub-cultures have tended to concentrate on marginal, exceptional,
disadvantaged or deviant groups in society, for example surfers (Irwin, 1973;
Pearson, 1981a, 1981b), bikeboys and hippies (Willis, 1978), particular youth
groups (Jenkins, 1982) or ethnic minorities (Pryce, 1979; Willie, 1972). This
236 A.J. Veal
contrasts with most existing lifestyle studies which tend to be concerned with
charting variations in ways of life across the whole community.
Another feature of sub-cultural studies is that generally they are concerned with
internal group dynamics, as well as external relations between the group and the
rest of society. Most conceptions of lifestyle, while not precluding the idea of inter-
nal group interaction as part of the process of lifestyle formation, do not see this
as a necessary feature of lifestyle, a point discussed in the second part of the paper.
It might be said that most sub-cultural studies are richer in theory and explana-
tion than most lifestyle studies. Most involve in-depth research, including partici-
pant observation, whereas most lifestyle research is generally questionnaire based.
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Some lifestyle researchers might look askance at sub-cultural research because

typical studies deal only with single, small, non-mainstream groups and because
of the often radical theoretical/ideological approaches of the researchers. Similarly
sub-cultural researchers would look askance at many 'market segmentation' and
lifestyle studies, because of their shallow data and either their atheoretical nature
or their implicit theoretical/ideological conservatism. However, for those inter-
ested in lifestyle and sub-cultural research as tools in leisure analysis, the two
research traditions can be seen as complementary.
Psychological approaches to lifestyle offer analysis at the individual rather than
social level. Alfred Adler, for example, developed a definition of lifestyle from his
experience as a psychological therapist in the 1920s. He argued that each
individual develops a view of the world in the first four or five years of life. Unlike
the Freudian view of the individual torn by conflict between the conscious and the
sub-conscious, Adler's view is of the individual as a coherent 'whole person'; the
set of values and guiding principles which provide the framework for that
wholeness being termed the person's 'style of life' (1929). The principle has been
applied by followers of Adler in the areas of sexual therapy, the treatment of
schizophrenia and family therapy (Ansbacher, 1967). Being values-based this con-
ception, while it arises from a very different research agenda, has links with some
of the market research/psychographic approaches discussed below.
Adler, like Weber, defines the role of lifestyle without providing very much
guidance as to its actual constitution. It is not clear what a typical set of values or
principles looks like and how different sets of values of different people vary. The
question of measurement is left unresolved. Similarly the way values interact with
and affect behaviour is not made explicit in the literature.
In an alternative psychological approach, Reynolds and Darden (1974) and Earl
(1983) relate lifestyle to George Kelly's 'Personal Construct Theory', which is
based on the proposition that individuals develop a system of 'constructions'
against which all actions are judged and evaluated. This provides a framework
for the individual development of a coherent lifestyle. This, and the social-
psychological approach of the Rapoports (1975), are discussed further below, par-
ticularly in the context of 'coherence'.
The concept of lifestyle 237
Market research/psychographics
Market research seeks an understanding of people and their behaviour, not for its
own sake or for social reform or critical purposes, but in order to provide the
marketers of private and public sector goods and services with tools to achieve
their marketing objectives. The concept of lifestyle emerged as one such tool dur-
ing the 1960s. The market research literature on lifestyle - or psychographics is

extensive. The interest in the idea of lifestyle among market researchers arose from
a desire for a better basis for market 'segmentation' than the socio-economic
groups or social classes, based on occupation, which had been used hitherto. It was
observed that there was as much variation in buying behaviour within social class
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groups, as there was between them and it was suspected that some distinctive con-
sumer groups might straddle traditional social class boundaries. The result was a
series of attempts to 'segment' populations on the basis of values, either instead of
or in addition to socio-economic and demographic variables. Typically respon-
dents were asked to indicate the extent of their agreement with as many as 300
value statements, and were grouped on the basis of their responses, using multi-
variate statistical analysis. Once established, the groups were examined in terms
of their distinctive behaviour patterns, particularly consumption behaviour, but
also, in some studies, leisure behaviour (Wells, 1974; Plummer, 1974).
The most well-known study resulted in the VALS (Values, Attitudes and Life
Styles) typology of nine American lifestyle groups (Mitchell, 1981). While the
system was used commercially in the market research world, it has its origins in
academic enquiry with Weberian and Adlerian antecedents. Other systems include
the Australian Age lifestyle studies (The Age, 1982), 'Outlook', a British system
(Baker and Fletcher, 1987) and PRIZM, another American system (Hawkins
et al., 1989).
In recent years the value of such lifestyle systems as market research tools has
been questioned, either because they are too general and are not capable of
assisting the marketer of an individual product (Yuspeh, 1984) or because they
turn out to be no more effective than more traditional, and more easily measured,
variables (O'Brien and Ford, 1988).
While Weber and Adler appear to offer theory without measurement, the
market research approach appears to offer the opposite: measurement without
theory. The psychographic approach could however be seen as complementary to
the psychological approaches, since both are based on personal values. If
psychographic groups could be shown to have meaning in terms of social status
(and many of the derived groups imply the importance of status aspiration, in the
use of such terms as 'achievers' or 'strugglers'), then a similar complementarity
might be established with Weberian theory.

Spatial analysis has traditionally been the province of geography, which itself is a
discipline which encompasses a wide range of research approaches from the
natural sciences to the social sciences. Sociologists have also, at various times,
taken an interest in spatial phenomena, such as migration, community and the
inner city. Spatial approaches to lifestyle have taken two forms. The first arose
238 A.J. Veal
from the post-Second World War interest in the process of suburbanization,
particularly in America. A number of researchers explored the proposition that
suburban living would give rise to a new lifestyle which was neither urban nor rural
in nature (Bell, 1958, 1968; Donaldson, 1969; Marshall, 1973; Moore, 1963). In
such studies little progress was made in refining the lifestyle concept, the studies
seeming to focus empirically on the phenomenon of 'neighbouring' - the extent of
social interaction among neighbours. Generally it was concluded that suburban
lifestyles were not new, but tended to be a reflection of the particular socio~
demographic profile of those groups who moved to suburbia. As suburbia has lost
its novelty value this research has now faded from the scene.
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The second type of spatial lifestyle research is sometimes referred to as 'geo-

demographics' and is based on computer analysis of small-area census data. Data
on the characteristics of residential areas are subject to multi-variate analysis to
produce residential area 'types'. While these tend to reflect the housing, socio-
economic and demographic data upon which they are based, it is also believed that
residents of the various area types will have distinctive leisure and consumption
patterns - or lifestyles. Implicit in this approach is the proposition that lifestyle
consists of some sort of amalgam of housing conditions, socio-economic and
demographic factors and leisure and consumption behaviour and may be locally/
spatially distinct.
The most well-known geo-demographic system in Britain is ACORN, which
stands for A Classification Of Residential Neighbourhoods. The relationship
between ACORN and leisure behaviour has been investigated in a number of
studies (Bickmore et al., 1980; Jenkins et al., 1989; Nevill and Jenkins, 1986;
Shaw, 1984; Williams etal., 1988). In the same way that the values-based market
research/psychographic systems have come under attack for failing to perform, in
their own terms, any better than traditional variables, doubts have similarly been
raised about the relative merits of such systems as ACORN (Veal, 1991a).
Geo-demographic methods suffer from the same problems as other quantitative
methods of lifestyle analysis, particularly in their lack of theoretical underpinning.
This is not to say that there might not be a theoretical explanation of the spatial
patterns observed, but simply that those who have developed the systems have not
presented such explanations. However, in a recent paper, Zukin (1990) develops
a theoretical perspective on the 'spatial embeddedness' of consumption patterns.
Leisure styles
The idea of 'leisure styles' has been pursued by researchers from a variety of
disciplinary backgrounds, but is not linked to any one mainstream disciplinary
perspective. Much of the research has been inductive and 'data driven' rather than
theory driven. It has resulted in a substantial body of disparate, empirically based
literature which has yet to be satisfactorily synthesized. 'Leisure styles' research is
based on the idea that, as Roberts puts it:
Individuals do not so much engage in ad hoc miscellanies of activities as develop broader
systems of leisure behaviour consisting of a number of interdependent elements... ( 1978,
p. 37).
In the 1960s studies of the US Outdoor Recreation Resources Review Commission
The concept of lifestyle 239
(ORRRC) participation data were subjected to factor analysis to see whether, in
regression models, participation in the resultant groupings of activities could be
predicted more reliably than participation in individual activities (Proctor, 1962).
This was followed by many other experiments (e.g. Burton, 1971; Glyptis, 1981;
Gruenberg, 1983; Kelly, 1983, 1987; London et al., 1977). But Kelly (1989)
argues that the results of this approach have often been disappointing in
statistical terms.
The lack of theoretical underpinning is more apparent in this approach than in
most others. The underlying proposition is that certain activities 'go together' in
participation terms. However, while factor and cluster analysis will inevitably pro-
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duce groupings, the validity of such groupings is often suspect and their meanings
are not always clear. In particular it is not clear whether the groups are of com-
plementary activities or substitutable activities; in fact much of the leisure styles
research is unable to answer such a question because it is based on a narrow range
of activities, often outdoor recreation only. When a wider range of activities is
included, as Kelly points out, the analysis can be confounded by such 'core'
activities as watching television or socialising with friends and family, which most
people engage in, and which are therefore significantly correlated with most of the
minority activities.
A group of studies related to the idea of leisure styles deals with holiday-
makers/tourists, seeking to develop tourist 'types' on the basis of tastes and values
(e.g. Darden and Darden, 1976; Perreault et al., 1977) or illustrating how existing
lifestyle systems relate to tourist behaviour (Shih, 1986).
Despite its limitations, leisure styles research often throws up some intriguing
empirical patterns which demand explanation and which might in due course lead
to more theoretically informed and explanatory research.
Socialist lifestyles
The collapse of the socialist regimes of eastern Europe is likely to see the end
of the particular lifestyle research tradition associated with such regimes. Typical
examples of such research were contained in a special issue of the journal Leisure
and Society, published in 1972 and devoted to the 'socialist lifestyle' (Filipcova,
1972) and numerous papers have appeared since (e.g. in Filipcova et al., 1990).
In the socialist countries of the east the problem was addressed as to what forms
of lifestyle should be actively developed, as material conditions improved and
working hours were reduced. Under the communist system lifestyles would not
just 'happen', they would be planned - and the decadent tendencies of the west
would be avoided, thus demonstrating the superiority of the planned socialist
systems over market capitalism. In view of the paucity of guidance in Marxist
theory on just how life should be led under socialism or communism, the question
of what actually constitutes a socialist lifestyle and how it should be brought about
once a socialist economic system is established, was the subject of much debate,
a debate which inevitably involved the question of the role of leisure in such
lifestyles. It is ironic that the collapse of the communist regimes appears to have
been brought about as much as anything by their apparent failure to deliver to their
citizens the possibility of emulating the materialist lifestyles of the west.
240 A.J. Veal
Consumer culture
Consumer culture, and with it the idea of lifestyle, has emerged as a new focus of
attention for the critical sociologist; as Tomlinson puts it:
Debates on the exploitative dimensions of contemporary capitalism have focussed upon
the experience of work, the nature of paid labour. The political dimensions of patterns
of consumption have received little comparable sustained attention. Yet it is particular
modes of consumption upon which many major productive processes now depend (1990,
p. 3).
A number of researchers have therefore examined the significance of patterns and
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processes of consumption of goods and services in contemporary, post-modern,

western capitalist societies and the activities of the intermediaries between pro-
ducers and consumers, including designers, marketers, advertisers and the media.
While the focus of empirical study may be new, the theoretical issue is familiar:
that is, whether the individual enjoys real freedom as claimed by the liberal capi-
talist ethic, or whether such freedoms are illusions created and manipulated by
capitalist forces in the interests of the few. In the past the debate, exemplified for
example by the positions of Galbraith as contrasted to mainstream economists,
focussed on the investment and advertising might of large corporations and the
extent of their ability to dominate and control investment, production and sales
(see Veal, 1987, pp. 158-62). In its new form the debate focusses on the growing
importance of consumption and style, and whether the affluent consumer society
offers the opportunity for people to create a genuine freedom to fashion their own,
new, lifestyles and identities, largely independent of traditional class and status
constraints; or whether emerging consumption patterns and styles and the con-
trived 'aura of the commodity' (Tomlinson, 1990) are merely new tools of mani-
pulation, domination, division and exploitation by capital (Featherstone, 1987,
1990; Bourdieu, 1980, 1984; McCracken, 1988; Saunders, 1988; Shields, 1992;
Simmel, 1976; Tomlinson, 1990; Momaas, 1990).
While the issue of freedom versus control is presented here as a debate, in prac-
tice the disciplinary divisions have precluded any extensive direct debate between
those who conclude that consumer culture is a process characterized by genuine
freedom of the citizen and consumer, and those who have concluded that it is con-
trived and manipulated and the very negation of freedom. The former tend to be
economists and marketers writing in economics and marketing journals and
books, while the latter tend to be sociologists writing in sociological and cultural
studies media. Leisure Studies is perhaps one of the few forums where the pro-
tagonists might engage directly. From the point of view of this review, the issue
at stake is whether lifestyles are the free, creative expression of individuals or
groups of individuals, or whether lifestyles are created and manipulated by
capitalism and its agents.

While gender has not been a major theme in lifestyle research, attention is paid to
gender differences in some studies and there is a limited amount of research focuss-
ing specifically on women. A number of psychographic studies identify separate
lifestyle categories for women (e.g. The Age, 1982; Greenberg and Frank, 1983;
The concept of lifestyle 241
Mehrotra and Wells, 1977) but many, including the most well-known VALS
typology (Mitchell, 1985), have tended to ignore gender.
A number of lifestyle studies have focussed specifically on women, for example
the study by Ginzberg et al. (1966) of American women, Douglas and Urban's
international marketing study, covering Britain, France and the United States
(1977); O'Connell's study ( 1976, 1980) of 'traditional', 'neo-traditional' and 'non-
traditional' lifestyles among American women, and Matthews and Tiederman's
(1964) study of career aspirations.
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There are some lifestyle studies which deal with particular social groups or
phenomena, while drawing on one or more of the theoretical and methodological
approaches outlined above. It is not intended to discuss such studies in detail here,
but merely to draw attention to some examples. They include studies of: the
elderly and retirement (e.g. Kelly, 1987; Havighurst and Feigenbaum, 1959;
Havighurst and de Vries, 1969; Schutz, et al., 1979; Williams and Wirths, 1965);
communes as 'alternative' lifestyles (e.g. Aidala, 1989; Cock, 1979; Rigby, 1974);
youth and youth sub-cultures (e.g. Bernard, 1984; Brettschneider, 1990; Bynner
and Ashford, 1990; Jenkins, 1982); the family (e.g. Deutsch, 1967; Hunt and
Hunt, 1987; Lee, 1976); and domestic design (e.g. Davis, 1974; Laumann and
House, 1970). A major body of literature which uses the term 'lifestyle' is clinical
research which equates lifestyle to such phenomena as smoking and drinking
habits which are seen to have a deleterious effect on health (e.g. Long et al., 1988;
Manton, 1989; Jorgensen and Newlon, 1988).

Analysing lifestyle
A number of concepts and issues arise from the review of the literature on lifestyle
and these are discussed below under the headings: activities/behaviour; values and
attitudes; groups versus individuals; group interaction; coherence; recognizability;
and choice. In discussing these themes an attempt is made to evolve a definition
of lifestyle which is precise, unique, in being distinct from any other concept, and
efficient, in including only those elements necessary for a precise definition.
There seems to be a consensus that lifestyle involves activities: including consump-
tion patterns, leisure activities and what might be called domestic practices.
The latter can include styles of cooking/eating, child-rearing practices, home
decorating/furnishing style, and activities to do with personal relationships, kin-
ship and home maintenance. But paid work or occupation should also be included
since, for example, someone who commutes to a city centre office job will
experience a very different pattern of daily activity from the individual who works
on a farm. Lifestyle can then, at this stage, be said to be characterized by the full
range of day to day activities, including consumption patterns, leisure activities,
domestic practices and paid work activity.
242 A.J. Veal
Values and attitudes
Another group of variables included in some conceptualizations of lifestyle is
values and attitudes. In the market research literature lifestyle analysis is often seen
as synonymous with psychographics, which is based primarily on the measure-
ment of values and attitudes (Wells, 1974). Such models assume a causal relation-
ship between values and attitudes on one hand and behaviour on the other.
Generally the models used explore relationships between the values and attitudes
of lifestyle groups and their purchasing/consumption behaviour, and sometimes
their leisure activities. In this conception values and attitudes are influences on
lifestyle but not necessarily part of lifestyle itself. So categories produced by
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psychographics may be said to represent groups who are likely to share similar
lifestyles because they have similar sets of values; but the shared lifestyles are not
the same as the values; they result from the values in some way. This contrasts with
the Adlerian view, that a system of values and attitudes formed early in life, is a
person's lifestyle and shapes subsequent life patterns. A further dimension, intrin-
sic to much of the 'politics of lifestyle concern' research discussed above, but
strangely absent in other lifestyle research, is the role of religion in shaping

Individuals versus groups

Can an individual have a unique lifestyle or is this a contradiction in terms? While
many lifestyles may arise and be developed by group processes and some
individuals may adopt a lifestyle as a result of affiliation with, or in order to
affiliate with, a certain group, it is surely also possible for an individual to develop
a unique lifestyle. If nothing else, this proposition would seem to be acceptable
semantically, in that, while style is often a group phenomenon, it is also an
individual matter - for instance an artist may be referred to as having a 'unique
The idea of an individual lifestyle is the basis of the work of Adler (1929). In
reviewing Adler's work, Ansbacher (1967) suggests that the term lifestyle can be
used in three ways: firstly in relation to the individual, as in Adler's work; secondly
in relation to a group, where a lifestyle can emerge through the process of small
group dynamics, for example within the family, couples, or small-scale sub-
cultural groups; and thirdly it can be used as a 'generic term' referring to class,
occupational, status, cultural and other social groups.
The issue of group versus individual analysis depends on the detail with which
lifestyles are classified, which is in part influenced by the disciplinary framework
of the researcher. Ultimately, it could be argued, every individual's lifestyle is uni-
que. Williams and Wirths (1968), for example, gave a lifestyle type name to every
one of the 160 subjects in their study of elderly lifestyles. In the literature some
analysis involves large groupings, for instance when reference is made to a 'middle
class lifestyle'; but on other occasions more detail is involved, as for example in
delineating the various lifestyles of working class youth in a single suburb (Jenkins,
1982). Lifestyles practiced by single individuals are unlikely to be the stuff of
sociology or market research, although they are of interest to psychologists; but
the existence of such individual lifestyles, the processes by which they are formed,
The concept of lifestyle 243
and how they affect social relationships, should be of sociological and marketing
interest. Any definition of lifestyle should therefore not exclude the possibility of
individual as well as group analysis.
Group interaction
Is it necessary for individuals with common lifestyles to have direct social contact?
Not necessarily. For example a young person living in a small, isolated com-
munity, might adopt a 'punk' lifestyle on the basis of information gleaned from
television, newspapers and magazines and have no direct contact with others with
such a lifestyle. It is possible to conceive of people developing lifestyles which are
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unique in their own social circle - because they wish to be different from their
contemporaries rather than to conform - but which, as a result of their economic
and social situation and the influence of the media, in fact have sufficient
characteristics in common with others in the wider community as to form a
lifestyle group. Some members of such a group may have social contact and may
reinforce the various elements of the lifestyle in a social situation, but others may
adopt the lifestyle at a distance without any personal contact with those with the
same lifestyle.
It follows then that individuals sharing a common lifestyle do not necessarily
have any social contact, although most probably will. Where group interaction is
a fundamental feature of a particular lifestyle we could accept that that particular
group is a sub-culture. While all sub-cultural groups have a distinctive lifestyle, not
all lifestyles result from the complex processes which are intrinsic to sub-cultures
(Willis, 1978; Pearson, 1981a, 1981b; Irwin, 1973). Group interaction is not
therefore a necessary feature of lifestyle.
Does a lifestyle have to be coherent - that is consist of activities or behaviours
which 'make sense' or 'go together' or are 'compatible' or 'sympathetic'? A number
of definitions in the literature imply this. There is a certain amount of theoretical
work which suggests that it is the search for coherence and compatibility in various
aspects of their lives which is the key 'life task' for individuals. Adler's (1929) con-
ception involves individuals' 'drives, emotions, cultural experiences' being subor-
dinated to their 'organisation', which is equated with 'style of life'. The work of
Reynolds and Darden (1974) and Earl (1983), relating lifestyle to Personal Con-
struct Theory, involves individuals developing a system of 'constructions' against
which all actions are judged and evaluated and 'in which incompatibilities and
inconsistencies have been minimized'. Bell argues that culture is expressed through
'style of life' and is: 'a continual process of sustaining an identity through the
coherence gained by a consistent aesthetic point of v i e w . . . ' (p. 36). McCracken
(1988) refers to the 'Diderot Effect' - 'a force which encourages the individual to
maintain a cultural consistency in his/her complement of consumer goods'
(p. 123). Glasser (1973) and the Rapoports (1975) argued that individuals are
motivated by the search for a meaningful, coherent identity, which determines
their choice of leisure activity. The 'style' part of the word lifestyle also implies that
some sort of coherence of approach is involved (Gombrich, 1968).
Despite this range of arguments for the existence of such coherence there is
244 A.J. Veal
remarkably little discussion in the lifestyle literature of what, in theory, constitutes
coherence. There has been a great deal of empirical investigation of lifestyles and
'leisure styles' (discussed below) producing groupings of activities and attitudes but
no discussion of how or why the particular sets of activities and attitudes presented
are coherent.
In art coherence is a matter of aesthetics. Aesthetics no doubt has a part to play
in lifestyle formation insofar as it involves such factors as the way people dress or
decorate or furnish their houses (Davis, 1974; Laumann and House, 1970) and
their taste in cultural phenomena such as film, television or paintings (Bourdieu,
1984). But the salience of this to different people or groups presumably varies. In
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Bourdieu's scheme of things coherent sets of taste are an aspect of an individual's

'cultural capital' and 'habitus', which depends on what class a person is born into
and their education and occupation. While some individuals, consciously or sub-
consciously, may achieve and maintain a set of stylistically coherent practices,
others may not, either because of lack of socialization or education or because their
personality or values do not require it of them. But coherence can be practical as
well as aesthetic. Thus a coherent lifestyle may be one which is not psychologically
or physically stressful- that involves 'optimal arousal' in the psychologists'
While various theoretical perspectives suggest that people seek coherence in
their lives, the extent to which they succeed in achieving coherence is not clear.
Does the typical individual achieve coherence or is the norm an unsatisfied search
for coherence? There could be lifestyles which are characterized by the lack of
coherence in their constituent activities. Linder's 'harried leisure class' (1970) and
Godbey's 'anti-leisure' (1989) would perhaps indicate such a situation. It might be
argued that such lifestyles are not sustainable in the long term, because of the
stresses they place on the individual. But some individuals are better at handling
stress than others, and in fact may sustain such internally incompatible lifestyles
for many years, perhaps for much longer than others who sustain less stressful
lifestyles but adopt or drop them for a variety of reasons.
It seems then that lifestyles consist of sets of activities and practices which: either
(a) 'fit together' as a result of some guiding set of coherent moral or aesthetic prin-
ciples; (b) 'fit together' but only from force of circumstance (such as age, income,
household/family situation, geography); or (c) do not 'fit together'. We may con-
clude therefore that, although coherence is likely to be a key variable in analysing
lifestyle, it is not a necessary component of the definition of lifestyle, since some
lifestyles may lack coherence.
Is it a lifestyle if no-one recognizes it as such - either those sharing the supposed
lifestyle or those not sharing it? It is perhaps notable that among the dozens of
lifestyle groups identified in the literature, there are relatively few which the
general public would recognize by name. The names of certain sub-cultural groups
have entered the general language - for example, surfies, hippies, punks, Sloane
Rangers (UK), Preppies (US); a few marketing group acronyms and terms have
entered the language in recent years - Yuppies, DINKS, empty nesters, etc; certain
class-based groupings are generally recognized - the hard hat, the socialite, the
The concept of lifestyle 245
executive, the international jet-set or the smart set; and geographically labelled
groupings, such as 'the North Shore set' or 'Westies' (Sydney) or 'Hampstead types'
or 'Eastenders' (London), are common. In addition what might be called lifestyle
adjectives are often applied to people or groups of p e o p l e - trendy, rough,
swinger, flashy, up-market. Generally these terms are used to describe 'other peo-
ple' and not 'ordinary people like us'. Most people would probably not see
themselves as part of a 'lifestyle group'.
The question of how people perceive the lifestyles of others - some of which are
actual or potential positive or negative lifestyle models for themselves - has not
generally been addressed in the literature. Much empirical lifestyle research aimed
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at identifying lifestyle groups is based on systematic data collection exercises, con-

sisting of hundreds of data items, but the information which people have about
others in the community can generally only be a fraction of this mountain of data
which the researchers deem necessary in order to specify lifestyles. Insofar as
individuals are making judgements and assessments of the lifestyles of others, they
are doing it on the basis of more limited and less systematic information than is
used by lifestyle researchers.
No doubt people's perceptions of others' lifestyles are partial, superficial and
often inaccurate. H o w is the information gained? Some is gained from everyday
social interaction - we see the cars other people drive, we see their houses (from
the outside and occasionally from the inside), we see them shopping, we see how
they dress, we see their behaviour towards others and towards themselves, in the
street, on the beach, etc. We see the facilities which we know some people use, but
which we may or may not u s e - churches, cinemas, sports facilities, casinos,
brothels, etc. Then the media give us a worldwide view - also no doubt partial,
superficial and often inaccurate - of how others live, from the poor of the third
world to the 'Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous'. While the information on any one
individual or group may be limited, the overall quantity of information coming at
us about lifestyles in general is enormous.
This discussion leads from the question of how we perceive others' lifestyles to
how we perceive our own. The clarity with which people perceive their own
lifestyles probably varies enormously. While people may be engaged in an exercise
in coherent lifestyle building how many would be able to provide an account of
the process? H o w many have a clear picture of the lifestyle they lead, the lifestyle
they aim to lead, the lifestyles they compare themselves with and emulate and
Thus it can be concluded that, while recognizability may be a feature of some
lifestyles, it is not a necessary part of the definition of lifestyle. Researchers may
need to sort and label lifestyles into recognizable categories, but the extent to
which people themselves engage in such practices is not known.
Do people choose their lifestyles? This is the most complex issue to be discussed
here, since the idea of choice is such an ideologically contested notion. Some would
argue that a 'choice' based view of human behaviour is misleading since the idea
of choice in contemporary capitalist society is illusory and certain groups are in any
case very restricted in the range of choices available to them.
246 A.J. Veal
It can be argued that the constraints on choice under capitalism are more salient
than the areas of freedom and that therefore, to talk of choice as the basis of social
behaviour is misleading. Ordinary people, it is argued, do not make the key deci-
sions; these are made by elites; the range of choice which consumers do enjoy is
essentially trivial; and, insofar as consumers perceive the choices they make as real,
they are suffering from false consciousness and have been duped into pursuing
'false needs' (Horkheimer and Adorno, 1973; Marcuse, 1985; Rojek, 1985,
pp. 113-20; Clarke and Critcher, 1985, p. 100; Aronowitz, 1980).
Such a thesis can of course be countered, with arguments about consumer
sovereignty and the many examples of the failure of marketing to impose the cor-
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porate will on the consumer, and with the argument that, even if they were able
to do so, firms would be foolish to go to the effort and expense of creating new
or 'false' needs or demands when so many needs and demands patently exist
already, and so on. To argue that all the key decisions are made by unaccountable
elites and that therefore ordinary people have no scope for meaningful choice in
their lives is to underestimate the importance of the combined effects of decisions
made by millions of ordinary people - to buy this product or that, to migrate or
not, to have more or less babies, to marry younger or older or not at all, and so
on (Bell, 1968).
The argument is partly ideological and partly a reflection of the 'structure/
agency' debate in social theory - that is the extent to which human behaviour is
determined by external forces and the extent to which people are able to exercise
free will (Rojek, 1989). Clearly the consequences of the social, economic and
political structural forces in society cannot be ignored. Individuals are constrained
by these forces in a fundamental way in any society. But they are also constrained
by more personal factors, such as personal relationships, family commitments
and health, which, while not separate from the structural forces, neverthe-
less presumably have a certain dynamic of their own. However, when all these
constraining factors have been noted and taken into account most individuals
are still left with a 'space' or 'spaces' within which they make choices. The varying
size of such spaces, how 'free' the choices are and what guides and influences
them is a matter for research. These individual choices in turn impact on the
immediate personal environment and, when aggregated with the decisions of
millions of others, also impact on the broader social, economic and political
environment. The 'agency' theorists have provided perspectives on the broad
social, economic and political forces. Some sociologists, social-psychologists
and many leisure researchers have given attention to individuals in their imme-
diate social setting. And psychologists have dealt with the inner decision-making
space. Lifestyle research may be able to cut across all these levels of analysis.
A second argument advanced against accepting the 'choice' view of human
behaviour and lifestyle is that certain groups in contemporary society are excluded
from the choice process due to lack of economic resources or power. Again such
an argument does not invalidate lifestyle analysis. To argue that some groups have
less choice than others does not lead to the conclusion that the choices exercised
by the majority should not be studied, or that the effects of limited choice in con-
straining lifestyle aspirations should not be studied. In addition it is not true to say
The concept of lifestyle 247
Fig. 1. The poverty/affluence - way of life/lifestyle continuum.

High Lifestyle arising

from choice
Degree of

Imposed way
Low of life
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Poverty 9 D Affluence

that people who have limited choice have no choice - the issue is that they would
like to have more choice.
Ruiz (1990) points out that in societies where subsistence is the main preoccupa-
tion - for example many pre-industrial and third world agrarian communities -
the idea of lifestyle arising from choice is inappropriate; even the term 'lifestyle' is
perhaps inappropriate and should be replaced by 'way of life'-basically the
members of such communities have identical ways of life imposed on them by cir-
cumstances. The poor within affluent societies could be said to exist in such a
situation and it could be said that political, economic and welfare policies are often
aimed at shifting people along the continuum illustrated in Fig. 1. There is a con-
tinuum of greater or lesser choice rather than a dichotomy.
Lack of choice may not be due only to poverty but also to lack of power. For
instance, it is argued that women lack freedom of choice because they lack power
(Rojek, 1989, p. 99). In this case, in Fig. 1, the poverty-affluence dimension
should be replaced by a powerless-powerful continuum.
It can be concluded therefore that, in western societies, lifestyle involves choice,
although the degree of freedom of choice varies from individual to individual, from
group to group and from time to time. But this issue concerns the way in which
lifestyles are formed rather than the nature of lifestyles themselves; people have
lifestyles (or ways of life) whether they have been developed in the context of wide
or limited choice.

As a result of this review of the issues surrounding the conceptualization of
lifestyle, a definition has been developed which, it is believed, gives the concept a
clear, operationalizable and theoretically useful identity:
Lifestyle is the distinctive pattern of personal and social behaviour characteristic of an
individual or a group.
'Behaviour' includes activities involved in relationships with partners, family,
relatives, friends, neighbours and colleagues, consumption behaviour, leisure,
work (paid or unpaid) and civic and religious activity. Patterns of behaviour are
linked to values and to socio-demographic characteristics, may involve varying
248 A.J. Veal

degrees of social interaction, coherence and recognizability and are formed

through a process of wide or limited choice.
The challenge to the researcher is firstly, as an empirical task, to move beyond
simple identification of lifestyle groups to unravel the processes by which lifestyles
are formed and sustained at the individual level and the processes by which people
adopt lifestyles or have lifestyles thrust upon them. Secondly there is the question
of the meaning and importance of actual or desired lifestyles to the individual; is
a desired lifestyle something which people take seriously, replacing such factors as
religion and morality in shaping people's lives, or is it a surface, ephemeral matter
of little consequence? Thirdly there are questions related to lifestyle as a social
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variable involved in economic and political structures and relationships in society:

to what extent is lifestyle an expression of freedom as opposed to a contrived and
manipulated tool of consumer capitalism? Fourthly, from a very different perspec-
tive, there are questions concerning the usefulness of the concept of lifestyle in such
applied areas as marketing and public policy: if lifestyle has replaced or is destined
to replace class as the key differentiating variable in society, this has implications
for the analysis of leisure demand, the marketing and provision of leisure services
and the study of leisure service consumption.

This paper draws on a more extensive review and annotated bibliography
published in Veal (1991). I am grateful to the a n o n y m o u s referees for helpful com-
ments on the first draft of the paper.

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