Locating the place and meaning of physical activity in the lives of young people from low income, lone parent families

Thomas Quarmby, Symeon Dagkas

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

22 Citations (Scopus)


Background: In the United Kingdom (UK), it is predicted that economic cuts and a subsequent increase in child poverty will affect those already on the lowest incomes and, in particular, those living in lone-parent families. As a result, the informal pedagogic encounters within the family that contribute to the development of physical activity-related values, beliefs and dispositions from a very early age will be affected. Therefore, it is vital that we gain an understanding of the place and meaning of physical activity in the lives of young people, as well as the informal pedagogic practices and the socio-cultural forces that influence individual agency.

Purpose: Based on Bourdieu's key concepts, this paper explores the interplay of structural conditions and personal agency with regard to physical activity in the lives of young people from low-income, lone-parent families.

Methods: This study reports on the voices of 24 participants (aged 11–14) from low-income, lone-parent families in the West Midlands, UK. These participants were engaged in paired, semi-structured interviews to explore issues of personal agency by listening to how they reported on their present lives, past experiences and future possibilities with regard to physical activity. All corresponding interview data were analysed using analytical induction.

Findings: This paper suggests that young people exhibited diminished desires to engage in activity due to structural constraints of time, parents' work commitments and a lack of transport that resulted in engagement in sedentary alternatives. Informal pedagogic practices within these families were restricted due to the associated structural conditions of living in a lone-parent family. As such, young people's choice to not seek out physical activities when at home reflected a ‘taste for necessity’ resulting from a lack of cultural and economic capital, placing restrictions on physical activity opportunities that stemmed from their family doxa.

Conclusions: To succeed in fostering dispositions and opportunities to participate in physical activity, we must engage with young people from low-income, lone-parent families from an early age. Certainly though, further consideration of the informal pedagogic practices within, and the demands on, lone-parent families is required when designing any intervention or policy that seeks to enhance their current circumstances and provide opportunities for engagement in a variety of contexts.
Original languageEnglish
JournalPhysical Education and Sport Pedagogy
Early online date12 Jul 2012
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 12 Jul 2012


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