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Lifestyle involves the typical features of everyday life of an individual or a group. These features pertain to interests, opinions, behaviors, and behavioral orientations. For example, lifestyle relates to choice and allocation of leisure time; preferences in clothes and food; tastes in music, reading, art, and television programs; and choice of consumer goods and services.
At the individual level, lifestyle denotes self-expression, personal taste, and identity. At the group level, the concept refers to shared preferences and tastes that are reflected primarily in consumption patterns and in the possession of goods. Lifestyles give members of a group a sense of solidarity, and mirror the differentiation between groups in society. The distinctive lifestyles of specific groups may be hierarchically ordered to different degrees, depending on the extent to which a clear system of prestige exists that attaches value to lifestyles.
Building on Max Weber s (1946) work, which emphasizes lifestyle as a means of social differentiation that could be used to acquire or to maintain a certain social status, a body of research has developed, which adopted the view that lifestyle is a major form of social stratification that can be used to characterize contemporary society (Veblen 1994; Bourdieu 1984).
Lifestyle elements, in terms of specific cultural preferences, consumption, and behavior, can be studied one at a time or as stylistic unities. Stylistic unity is an internal cultural consistency in the elements comprising a lifestyle and in symbolic properties of those elements. It rests on shared perceptions that lifestyle elements are patterned in a manner that makes some sort of aesthetic or other sense. Stylistic unity can range from a tight system of expectations for particular tastes and preferences, all adhering to a clear set of cultural imperatives, to a system of blurred, eclectic components, loosely connected by symbolic meanings. A comprehensive lifestyle analysis will emphasize the way in which arrays of lifestyles evolve over time, the degree to which different lifestyles (associated with class, race, sexuality, etc.) are legitimized, and the way lifestyles are linked to changes in social and economic structures.
Research on the determinants of lifestyle differentiation has predominantly concentrated on those factors that Weber, Veblen, and Bourdieu emphasized in their theoretical accounts of the contours of lifestyles. Indeed, a significant body of research has shown that tastes and consumption patterns are influenced by individuals education, financial resources, occupational characteristics, parental education, and parental lifestyle. In addition, other factors have been shown to matter, such as gender, age, and race/ethnicity. At the same time, there is evidence that in contemporary society lifestyle is becoming more volatile and less hierarchical so that the correlation with social divisions is no longer conclusive. This is explained by social conditions that are becoming increasingly fragmented, partly because of the proliferation of information and cultural repertoires. Since collective affiliations are multiple, fragmented, and often conflicted, the lifestyles associated with these affiliations are more fluid, unsettled, and cross-cutting.
- Bourdieu, P. (1984) Distinction: A Social Critique of the Judgment of Taste. Harvard University Press, Cambridge, MA.
- Featherstone, M. (1991) Consumer Culture and Postmodernism. Sage, London.
- Veblen, T. (1994) The Theory of the Leisure Class. Penguin Books, New York.
- Weber, M. (1946) Class, status, party. In: Max Weber: Essays in Sociology. Oxford University Press, New York, pp. 180-95.