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Is it Pleasure or Health from Leisure that We Benefit from Most? An Analysis of Well-Being Alternatives and Implications for Policy

Abstract

International policy now constantly advocates a need for populations to engage in more physical activity to promote health and to reduce society’s health care costs. Such policy has developed guidelines on recommended levels and intensity of physical activity and implicitly equates health with well-being. It is assumed that individual, and hence social welfare will be enhanced if the activity guidelines are met. This paper challenges that claim and raises questions for public policy priorities. Using an instrumental variable analysis to value the well-being from active leisure, it is shown that the well-being experienced from active leisure that is not of a recommended intensity to generate health benefits, perhaps due to its social, recreational or fun purpose, has a higher value of well-being than active leisure that does meet the guidelines. This suggests rethinking the motivation and foundation of existing policy and perhaps a realignment of priorities towards activity that has a greater contribution to social welfare through its intrinsic fun and possibly social interaction.

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Notes

  1. http://www.sportengland.org/research/benefits-of-sport/health-benefits-of-sport/case-study-engaging-inactive-people/.

  2. In such calculations it is unclear if the costs of physical activity are accounted for. For example, though less popular in current discussion, active leisure through sport and recreational activity also has health-care costs resulting from injury (see, for example, Marshall and Guskiewicz 2003). There are also well-documented health concerns with competitive sport (Ljungqvist et al. 2009).

  3. The minimum guidelines for children and young people aged 5–17 years are to undertake at least 60 min of moderate to vigorous-intensity physical activity daily. For adults aged 65 years and above minimum guidelines are for at least 150 min of moderate-intensity aerobic physical activity throughout the week, or do at least 75 min of vigorous-intensity aerobic physical activity throughout the week, or an equivalent combination of moderate- and vigorous-intensity activity (WHO 2010, pp. 7–8).

  4. Sport as active leisure is a good vehicle for analysis in the current context as very detailed information on the intensity of its practice is possible, as detailed below in Sect. 3.

  5. The use of the bivariate recursive probit model discussed in this section, as opposed to, say, the bivariate probit model employed by Rasciute and Downward (2010), only corrects for endogeneity on the theoretical assumption that there is no direct feedback between the outcome (e.g. well-being) and treatment (e.g. sports participation) variables. Both models can also have the same or different sets of regressors. In this way identification of the models, that is the tractability of the model for estimation, can rely on simply having variation in the regressors (that is by ‘functional form’, which in this case relies on bivariate normality). There is no need for exclusion restrictions. The inclusion of the latter, that is variables in the sports participation but not well-being equation, can aid identification and improve the theoretical argument concerning causality. This is the case with the papers, and also justifies their inclusion, in the second strand of the literature.

  6. In some formulations, the log of income is analysed (for example, CASE 2010). In the current context this is not undertaken in part because the measurement of income is based on the mid-point of income bands. It is thus less heavily skewed than data collated at the true individual level. The log of income was also insignificant in the analysis. Such a measurement of income in the Taking Part data does add some uncertainty to the analysis, but the advantage of using this data is that it allows for a detailed analysis of variations in the intensity of active leisure.

  7. It is not a panel survey.

  8. This wave is the most recent to include a variable that measures access to sports facilities. As discussed in the next section this is an important instrumental variable for the empirical analysis.

  9. For example, based on the sample of 15,464 observations, the maximum value of total minutes of sports participation in the last four weeks could be greater than possible given the number of days. Such errors at the upper end of the dependent variable probably reflect (perhaps compounded) overstatement or coding errors of the variables that comprise the components of the minutes of participation in sport. For example the largest response in the data comprised continuous sports participation of almost 72 days in a period of four weeks. A thin tail of extreme values was thus trimmed from the data.

  10. In this way the simultaneity between the sports and well-being variables that lies unobserved in the random error term is removed.

  11. Another potential candidate as an instrument was the ownership and use of a car with which individuals might be better able to access opportunities to participate in sport. It is not entirely clear that this would be a better instrument, a priori, as a car could be associated with an ostentatious purchase, or at least associated with status, thereby affecting overall well-being more than just via access to sports. As discussed in the text, it is difficult to provide purely compelling theoretical arguments often with instruments. Experimentation with this instrument however, revealed its poorer performance compared to the chosen instruments. R2 values of simple regressions of Happiness and the measures of sports participation on the different instruments were always higher for happiness than sports participation for access to a car, compared to the sports facility and monthly instruments in which the reverse was true, and the Hansen statistics also became significant at 10 %.

  12. See for example for 2009 population estimates from Office for National Statistics (2009) and migration data from http://www.ons.gov.uk/ons/rel/migration1/internal-migration-by-local-authorities-in-england-and-wales/research-series--years-ending-june-2009-to-june-2011/index.html (retrieved 16th December, 2014).

  13. See for example http://old.culture.gov.uk/what_we_do/research_and_statistics/7387.aspx (retrieved 16th December 2014).

  14. See for example, http://www.thefa.com/my-football/player/5-a-side-and-futsal (retrieved 16th December, 2014).

  15. Though the details are not included here, the robustness analysis below supports this claim.

  16. These values are given context later in the paper.

  17. This is why predicted minutes for a 3 × 30 min is <30 min.

  18. This would be because of the consumer surplus experienced by individuals.

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Downward, P., Dawson, P. Is it Pleasure or Health from Leisure that We Benefit from Most? An Analysis of Well-Being Alternatives and Implications for Policy. Soc Indic Res 126, 443–465 (2016). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11205-015-0887-8

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Keywords

  • Subjective well being
  • Happiness
  • Health
  • Active leisure
  • Sports