Social Indicators Research
An International and
Interdisciplinary Journal for
Soc Indic Res (2011) 102:81-91
Quality of Life and Leisure Activities:
How do Leisure Activities Contribute to
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Quality of Life and Leisure Activities: How do Leisure
Activities Contribute to Subjective Well-Being?
ˇganec •Marina Merkas
Accepted: 6 September 2010 / Published online: 30 September 2010
ÓSpringer Science+Business Media B.V. 2010
Abstract The quality of life is determined with objective factors and also with subjective
perception of factors which inﬂuence human life. Leisure activities play a very important
role in subjective well-being because they provide opportunities to meet life values and
needs. Through participation in leisure activities people build social relationships, feel
positive emotions, acquire additional skills and knowledge, and therefore improve their
quality of life. In this report we will explore how leisure activities improve subjective well-
being. We will try to distinguish among different types of leisure activities and ﬁnd those
which contribute more to the subjective well-being. Particularly, we will explore which
leisure activities contribute to the subjective well-being of women and men of different
age. Our study is based on data from a representative sample of Croatian citizens
(N =4,000), who estimated their subjective well-being and participation in various leisure
activities. First, we will describe the subjective well-being of various groups of people who
differ by gender and age. Afterward, we will identify important leisure activities which
determine subjective well-being across age and gender groups. Overall, our results show
that engagement in leisure activities contributes to subjective well being, while the pattern
of important leisure activities somewhat varies across different age and gender groups.
Keywords Leisure activities Subjective well-being Quality of life Age Gender
Researchers use various approaches to deﬁne and measure a complex, multidimensional
construct of quality of life (QOL), such as social indicators, subjective well-being measures,
and economic indices (Diener and Suh 1997; Veenhoven 2000). Regardless of differences in
QOL conceptualizations and methodology, Diener and Suh (1997) stress the importance of a
comprehensive view of the construct in scientiﬁc approaches. Two scientiﬁc approaches to
measuring QOL are usually applied: the measurement of people’s objective circumstances of
ˇganec M. Merkas
The Ivo Pilar Institute of Social Sciences, Marulic
´ev trg 19, 10000 Zagreb, Croatia
Soc Indic Res (2011) 102:81–91
Author's personal copy
living or social indicators, and measurement of peoples’ subjective experiences of their life
or subjective well-being (see Diener and Suh 1997 for a review). Researchers deﬁne sub-
jective well-being (SWB) as a broad construct that includes people’s cognitive and affective
reactions to their whole life (Diener et al. 1999; Myers and Diener 1995; Ryan and Deci
2001). More precisely, SWB consists of people’s emotional responses (e.g., happiness),
satisfaction with speciﬁc life domains, and satisfaction with life as a whole (overall or
general life satisfaction; Diener et al. 1999). Reviews of SWB studies (e.g., Diener 1984;
Diener et al. 1999; Diener et al. 2003; Myers and Diener 1995; Ryan and Deci 2001) showed
that various factors differently affect SWB. In his review Diener (1984) states bottom-up and
top-down approaches to SWB. Due to relatively small effects of the bottom-up factors (e.g.,
external events, situations, and demographics) on SWB, researchers started using top-down
factors (e.g., processes and structures within the person) to explain differences in SWB
(Diener et al. 1999). Once people satisfy basic biological needs that are signiﬁcant predictors
of SWB across diverse cultures (Oishi et al. 1999), fulﬁlment of psychological needs as well
as leisure activities may become an important source of their SWB (Diener et al. 1999).
However, participation in and opportunities for leisure activities that predict SWB vary
across individuals and cultures (Diener et al. 1999; Iwasaki 2007).
In examining leisure, researchers distinguish between the two types of leisure vari-
ables, person-centred and place-centred (Lloyd and Auld 2002). Person-centred leisure
variables are leisure participation, satisfaction, and attitude, while place-centred leisure
variables include leisure resources and environment. Lloyd and Auld (2002) stated that both
types of leisure variables, place- and person-centred, have to be measured when assessing
leisure activities, while Leung and Lee’s (2005) and McCormick and McGuire’s (1996)
ﬁndings indicate that the interaction of person- and place-centred leisure activities creates
and maintains life quality. Tinsley and Eldredge (1995) proposed and developed a classi-
ﬁcation of leisure activities based on their need-gratifying properties. Their taxonomy of
leisure activities includes 11 groups of activities named agency, novelty, belongingness,
service, sensual enjoyment, cognitive stimulation, self-expression, creativity, competition,
vicarious competition, and relaxation. Passmore and French (2001) identiﬁed three types of
leisure activities in which adolescents participate: achievement leisure activities, social
leisure activities, and time-out leisure activities. Lloyd and Auld (2002) grouped leisure
activities into six categories (mass media, social activities, outdoor activities, sports activ-
ities, cultural activities, and hobbies) based on their frequency. Scott and Willits (1998)
reported four types of leisure activities labelled socializing, creative or artistic, intellectual,
and sports activities. Although, there is no agreement about the classiﬁcation of leisure
activities in the literature, researchers agree that leisure contributes to SWB and suggest that
the relationship between leisure and SWB is complex (e.g., Iwasaki 2007; Leung and Lee
2005; Lloyd and Auld 2002; Nimrod and Adoni 2006; Rodrı
´guez et al. 2008).
Various explanations of processes underlying the relationship between leisure and SWB
are found in the literature. According to the activity theory, greater frequencies of par-
ticipation as well as more intimate activities are related to higher levels of SWB (Lemon
et al. 1972; Rodrı
´guez et al. 2008). Previous studies showed a positive relationship between
participation in physical leisure activities and SWB (Leung and Lee 2005), and health-
related QOL (Wendel-Vos et al. 2004). Lloyd and Auld’s study ﬁndings (2002) supported
the positive relation between social activities (e.g., frequency of visiting friends, going out
with friends) and SWB. In addition, Robinson and Martin (2008) showed that people who
are happy are also more active in most social activities. An alternative theoretical
framework is need theory which postulates that satisfaction of needs has beneﬁcial effects
on SWB (Diener and Lucas 2000; Rodrı
´guez et al. 2008). If individuals are able to satisfy
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their needs, they will maintain or increase their SWB. Tinsley and Eldredge (1995) focused
on ﬁnding leisure activities that are associated with needs satisfaction, as satisfaction of
needs through leisure experiences has a beneﬁcial effect on peoples’ SWB and health.
´guez’s et al. (2008) found support for both theoretical explanations positing the
relationship between leisure and SWB. Speciﬁcally, the more individuals perceived their
needs to be satisﬁed and participated in recreation, the higher SWB they reported. How-
ever, according to Iwasaki (2007) it is still not developed a clear and systematic under-
standing of how leisure improves QOL and therefore more research in this area is needed.
Furthermore, researches have examined relationships among sociodemographic vari-
ables and participation in leisure activities (e.g., Henderson et al. 2002; Shinew et al. 1996;
Sylvia-Bobiak and Caldwell 2006). Henderson et al. (2002) stated that it is important to
examine gender while exploring leisure participation. Shinew et al. (1996) explored the
inﬂuence of gender, education and income on leisure activities of African Americans. They
found that men and women belonging to a higher social class have similar leisure activ-
ities, while men and women belonging to a lower social class differ in leisure activities
they pursue. Sylvia-Bobiak and Caldwell (2006) found that male students more frequently
and more efﬁciently participate in active leisure, and that they receive more peer support to
be active than female students. Therefore, activities and experiences associated with leisure
potentially may have different beneﬁts for various groups of people. For example, among
working individuals, the participation in leisure could be a means of coping with work-
related stress (Trenberth and Dewe 2002), while for ageing people, the participation in
leisure activities could provide opportunities for social interactions (Auld and Case 1997;
Tinsley et al. 2002) that could improve their QOL (Kemperman and Timmermans 2008).
Overall, leisure activities play a very important role in QOL because they provide
opportunities for people to meet their life values and needs. Through participation in
leisure activities people build social relationships, feel positive emotions, acquire addi-
tional skills and knowledge, and therefore improve their QOL. Therefore, in this study, it
will be explored in which types of leisure activities participate men and women of different
age and how the participation in different types of leisure activities contributes to their
SWB. Previous research and theoretical postulation provide ground for general hypothesis
that participation in leisure activities contributes positively to SWB of women and men of
different age. Although, it can be hypothesized that the pattern of important leisure
activities somewhat varies across different age and gender groups.
Participants were 4,000 Croatian citizens, recruited through a large-scale public opinion
survey and representative of adult population of Croatia. Age and gender distribution is
shown in Table 1.
2.2.1 Subjective Well-Being
To better represent the complex nature of SWB, three measures of SWB were selected and
applied: Life-Satisfaction Scale, Happiness Scale and Personal Well-Being Index. The
Leisure and Subjective Well-Being 83
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Life-Satisfaction Scale is a single-item scale that measures cognitive aspects of SWB
(‘‘When all is taken into account, how satisﬁed are you with your life in general?’’). The
Happiness Scale is also a single-item scale that measures affective aspects of SWB
(‘‘When all is taken into account, how happy or unhappy do you usually feel?’’). Higher
scores on both scales indicate higher levels of life satisfaction and happiness. The Personal
Wellbeing Index (PWI) is a part of the broader International Wellbeing Index (IWI;
Cummins 2002; Cummins et al. 2003) that measures satisfaction with seven life domains:
material status, personal health, achievement in life, relationships with family and friends,
feelings of physical safety, acceptance by the community, and future security. Besides
scores on speciﬁc domains, the average score across all personal domains is provided.
Seven speciﬁc life-satisfaction items have very good internal consistency (a=.87) and
strongly converge to one component which accounts for 56% of variance.
All three measures of SWB are highly related and they share a great proportion of
common variance. Strong internal consistency (a=.88) and clear convergence to one
component, indicate that three measures can be combined to one global measure of SWB.
2.2.2 Leisure Activities
The Leisure Activities Scale is created for the purpose of this study and it measures
frequency of participation in 15 leisure activities (see Appendix for the list of leisure
activities and for the level of respondents’ participation in them). Listed leisure activities
have been selected as they are common in Croatian culture and as they cover most leisure
activities mentioned in previous studies (e.g. Tinsley and Eldredge 1995). Due to the
limitation of the conducted omnibus survey, we represented particular leisure activities
with broader categories (e.g. different kinds of sports as ‘jogging’, ‘tennis’, roller skating’,
‘soccer’ were represented with just one category named ‘playing sports’).
By Principal Component Analysis, in the set of 15 leisure activities three underlying
factors were extracted on the basis of Kaiser-Guttmann criterion. The extracted factors
explain 50% of item variance and they represent three broad categories of leisure activities
which can be labeled as active socializing and going out (items: playing sports; going to
´s, clubs or pubs; attending sport events; and dining in restaurants), visiting cultural
events (items: visiting exhibitions; going to theatres; reading books; attending concerts;
going to the movies; going to excursions or ﬁeld trips; engaging in some particular hobby),
and family and home activities (items: visiting friends and relatives; shopping; going to the
church; watching TV). The respondents’ results on three broad categories of leisure
activities were expressed as factor scores, and therefore higher scores denote more frequent
participation in particular leisure activities. The observed structure of leisure activities is
stable across age and gender of respondents, as Tucker coefﬁcients of congruence among
the same factors in different samples are greater than .85.
Table 1 Participants’
distribution across age and
Men Women Total
18–30 years 444 454 898
31–60 years 1,088 1,064 2,152
61?years 440 510 950
Total 1,972 2,028 4,000
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3.1 The Level of SWB in the Croatian Samples
According to study results, Croatian citizens report SWB of 6.7 points on scale that ranges
from 0 to 10. The level of reported well-being is equal for women and men, and it
uniformly declines with age for both men and women (F
=70.2, p\.001; F
0.3, p[.05; F
=0.9, p[.05; Fig. 1).
3.2 Participation in Leisure Activities
By two-way MANOVA, we analysed age and gender mean differences in participation in
three broad types of leisure activities: Active socializing and going out,Visiting cultural
events, and Family and home activities. At the multivariate level, we observed clear gender
and age mean differences and no interaction in participation in three broad leisure activities
=217.7, p\.001; F
=280.8 p\.001; F
=2.4, p[.05). At the
univariate level, we explored gender and age mean differences in participation in particular
leisure activities (Figs. 2,3, and 4). Particularly, we observed that men and younger people
more frequently participate in Active socializing and going out than women and older
=477.8, p\.001; F
=920.7, p\.001; F
Fig. 2). Additionally, women and younger people more frequently participate in Visiting
cultural events than men and older people (F
=86.4, p\.001; F
=1.3, p[.05; Fig. 3). In addition, women and younger people more
frequently participate in Family and home activities than men and people older than
60 years (F
=100.3, p\.001; F
=28.8, p\.001; F
3.3 Contribution of Leisure Activities to SWB
To explore the predictive importance of different leisure activities for SWB, we con-
ducted six regression analyses (Table 2). Multiple regression coefﬁcients vary from .19 to
Fig. 1 The level of SWB across age and gender
Leisure and Subjective Well-Being 85
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.34 in different subsamples and show moderate, but substantial contribution of leisure
activities to SWB. However, the pattern of important leisure activities somewhat varies in
different samples. According to the signiﬁcant beta-coefﬁcients, participation in all three
leisure activities contributes to SWB of people aged from 31 to 60 years. In samples of
people in late adulthood (61?), only participation in Visiting cultural events and in
Family leisure activities contributes to SWB, while participation in Active socializing and
going out showed no contribution to SWB. In young samples (18–30 years) only par-
ticipation in Family leisure activities contributes to SWB, although we also found
important contribution of Active socializing and going out in sample of young women
Fig. 2 Age and gender differences in Active socializing and going out
Fig. 3 Age and gender differences in Visiting cultural events
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In this study, the relationship between various types of leisure activities and SWB across
different age and gender groups was examined. In general, study ﬁndings show that par-
ticipation in various leisure activities signiﬁcantly contributes to SWB of Croatian citizens,
and this conﬁrms the general hypothesis about positive relationship between participation
in leisure and SWB. Through participation in leisure activities people build social rela-
tionships, feel positive emotions, acquire additional skills and knowledge, and therefore
improve their quality of life. Thus, different patterns of leisure activities are found to
contribute to SWB of women and men of different age in this study.
Fig. 4 Age and gender differences in Family and home activities
Table 2 The importance of leisure activities for SWB in different age and gender samples: the results of
18–30 years 31–60 years 61?years 18–30 years 31–60 years 61?years
Active socializing and
.04 .23* .10 .22* .10* .02
Visiting cultural events .02 .14* .19* .05 .21* .23*
Family and home
.18* .20* .24* .22* .12* .14*
R.19 .33 .34 .30 .25 .29
% of explained
variance of SWB
3.6 10.8 11.4 9.1 6.4 8.1
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Study results show that Croatian citizens reported relatively high overall level of SWB.
Similar ﬁndings regarding the level of well-being are found in previous research in Croatia
ˇan and Prizmic
´-Larsen 2006). In this study, SWB of both women and
men declines with age, so the level of SWB is the lowest in group of people older than
60 years. Lloyd and Auld (2002) also showed that older people experience lower perceived
QOL. In addition, previous research done in Croatia showed that women as well as older
people report about lower levels of SWB indicated by life satisfaction and happiness
´and Kaliterna Lipovc
ˇan 2007). Nevertheless, Leung and Lee’s (2005) ﬁndings
about the relation between socioeconomic status (indicated by age, gender, education, and
income variables) and life quality suggest that socioeconomic status is not a key deter-
minant in predicting life quality.
Findings from this study show that Croatian citizens most frequently spend their leisure
time by watching TV. Less frequently they visit friends or relatives, engage in some
particular hobby, go shopping, go to bars or clubs, read books, or go to the church. Quite
infrequently they go to excursions, play sports, dine in restaurants, attend sport events,
attend concerts, go to the movies, visit exhibitions, or go to the theatre. Lloyd and Auld
(2002) also found that frequency of participation in media activities (e.g., watching tele-
vision, and reading newspapers) showed the highest mean score of all activity categories
(e.g., social, outdoor, sports, cultural activities, and hobbies). Spending leisure time by
watching TV or reading newspapers may be forms of entertainment and relaxation for
some people (e.g., Wachter and Kelly 1998). In this study, frequency of leisure activities of
Croatian youth show that men most frequently participate in Active socializing and going
out, while women report that they most frequently Visiting cultural events and participate
in Family leisure activities. Results from the Eurobarometar survey (Eurostat 2009)
showed that young people (aged from 15 to 30 years) from different European countries
most frequently spend their leisure by participating in social activities (e.g. meet friends,
go for a walk), and than by media activities (e.g. watch TV, play video). In Croatia, results
of a study conducted among high school students showed that adolescent girls and boys do
not differ in frequency of their time spent going out and socializing (Raboteg-S
2002). Boys more often participate in sport activities, while girls are more likely to read
books and participate in culture events (Raboteg-S
´et al. 2002). Sylvia-Bobiak and
Caldwell (2006) also found that male students more frequently participate in active leisure.
Overall, results of current study conﬁrm that Croatian youth, like youth from other
European countries, more often spend their leisure in activities outside of their homes.
Scott and Willits (1998) longitudinal study ﬁndings showed that adolescent leisure par-
ticipation is one of the best predictors of adult leisure participation. It could be hypothe-
sized that participation in certain leisure activities at young age may predict participation in
the same form of leisure activities later in life. Thus, future research should examine this
hypothesis using a longitudinal study design.
Results from regression analyses showed that participation in leisure activities con-
tributes positively to the explanation of SWB of women and men as well as people of
different age. Family leisure activities (e.g., visiting friends and relatives, going to the
church) signiﬁcantly and positively contribute to SWB of men and women from all three
age groups. This relation could be partially explained by the activity theory, which
postulates that the more intimate is the activity, the more it contributes to ones’ SWB
(e.g., Lemon et al. 1972; Rodrı
´guez et al. 2008). This ﬁnding is also in accordance with
the previous ﬁndings about the relation between family activities and SWB (e.g., Leung
and Lee 2005). Leung and Lee (2005) found that in people-centred leisure activities
talking with family and friends face-to-face and participating in community or religious
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activities are signiﬁcantly linked to quality of life. In this study, results of regression
analyses also show that all women aged from 18 to 60 years and men aged from 31 to
60 years who participate in Active socializing and going out have higher levels of SWB.
Leisure can play an important role in QOL (Kemperman and Timmermans 2008)
because activities support social interaction (Fukumoto and Yamaguchi 2002; Tinsley
et al. 2002). In older people who do not work, leisure activities can provide opportunities
for meeting people, engaging in social events and for fulﬁlment of their psychological
needs (e.g., need for relatedness) whereas for people who work, leisure may serve as a
means of coping with stress related to work (e.g., Trenberth and Dewe 2002). Leisure
Visiting cultural events signiﬁcantly contributes to the explanation of SWB of people
aged between 30 and 60 years as well as of those older than 60 years. More precisely,
people who visit exhibitions, go to the theatre, read books, attend concerts have higher
SWB. Silverstein and Parker (2002) stated that maximizing activity participation can be
an adaptive strategy taken by older people to compensate for social and physical deﬁcits
in later life.
This study provided valuable ﬁndings regarding the relation between leisure and SWB,
but several limitations must be noted. This study was cross-sectional so no conclusion
about causality between leisure and SWB can be made. Thus, it is more likely that par-
ticipation in different leisure activities contributes to peoples’ SWB. Frequency of par-
ticipation in leisure is found to be signiﬁcantly related to QOL (e.g., Lloyd and Auld 2002)
and this study also provide support for this notion, though it would be very valuable to
examine other person- and place-centred types of leisure in relation to QOL in future
studies. In addition, future research should assess a broader range of leisure activities (e.g.,
Tinsley and Eldredge 1995; Passmore and French 2001). The pattern of leisure activities
that contributed to SWB was slightly different across age and gender groups, and thus
indicates to a need for further examination of relation between leisure and SWB in regard
to age and gender.
To conclude, the study ﬁndings support the positive link between leisure and SWB.
Overall, our results show that engagement in leisure activities contributes to subjective
well-being, while the pattern of important leisure activities somewhat varies across dif-
ferent age and gender groups. Based on the study ﬁndings, some practical implications for
enhancement of peoples’ SWB can be emphasized focusing on the possibilities that people
may improve their SWB by participating more in leisure activities, and especially par-
ticipating in family and home activities.
Acknowledgments This research was conducted as a part of two research projects ‘Development of
national indicators of quality of life’ and ‘‘Determinants of parenting, family relationships and children’s
well-being’’ funded by the grant from the Ministry of Science, Education and Sports of the Republic of
Croatia. The earlier version of this paper was presented at the 9th Conference of the International Society for
Quality-of-Life Studies (Florence, Italy, 2009).
See Table 3.
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Table 3 Frequency of participation in various leisure activities measured by Leisure activities scale:
Leisure activities 18–30 years 31–60 years 61?years
Males Females Males Females Males Females
Going to the movies 2.8 2.8 1.8 1.8 1.2 1.2
Going to the theatre 1.3 1.4 1.2 1.3 1.1 1.1
Visiting exhibitions 1.9 2.1 1.8 1.9 1.5 1.5
Attending concerts 3.1 2.8 2.1 2.1 1.4 1.4
Playing sports 4.7 3.4 3.0 2.1 1.5 1.3
Attending sport events 3.6 2.3 3.0 1.8 1.7 1.2
Going to excursions 3.1 3.0 2.8 2.8 1.9 1.9
Going shopping 4.4 5.0 4.2 4.7 3.2 3.3
Dining in restaurants 3.3 3.2 2.8 2.5 1.8 1.5
Going to bars or clubs 6.3 5.8 4.7 3.9 2.8 1.9
Visiting friends or relatives 5.7 5.7 5.2 5.2 4.5 4.8
Engaging in some particular hobby 5.1 4.6 4.5 4.2 3.7 3.7
Going to the church 3.0 3.6 3.2 3.8 3.2 4.3
Reading books 3.8 4.4 3.6 4.4 3.0 3.6
Watching TV 7.5 7.6 7.7 7.7 7.7 7.8
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