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Soc Sci Med. 1998 Dec;47(11):1665-76.

Educational differences in leisure-time physical inactivity: a descriptive and explanatory study.

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Department of Public Health, Erasmus University Rotterdam, Netherlands.


In this study we aim to explain educational differences in leisure-time physical inactivity in terms of psychosocial and material factors. Cross-sectional data were obtained from the baseline of the Dutch GLOBE study in 1991, including 2598 men and women, aged 15-74 years. Physical inactivity during leisure time was defined as not participating in any activity, such as sports, gardening, walking or cycling. Psychosocial factors included in the study were coping resources, personality, and stressors. Material factors were financial situation, employment status, and living conditions. Logistic regression models were used to calculate educational differences in physical inactivity. Physical inactivity was more prevalent in lower educational groups. Psychosocial factors related to physical inactivity were locus of control, parochialism, neuroticism, emotional social support, active problem focussing, optimistic and palliative coping styles. Material factors associated with physical inactivity were income, employment status and financial problems. All correlates of physical inactivity were unequally distributed over educational groups, except optimistic and palliative coping. Personality and coping style were the main contributors to the observed educational differences in physical inactivity. That is to say, parochialism, locus of control, neuroticism and active problem focussing explained about half of elevated odds ratios of physical inactivity in the lower educational groups. The material factors, equivalent income and employment status explained about 40% of the elevated odds ratios. Psychosocial and material correlates together reduced the odds ratios of lower educational groups by on average 75%. These results have practical consequences for the design of more effective interventions to promote physical activity. In particular, personality and coping style of risk groups, such as lower educational groups, should be taken into consideration at the future development of these interventions, as well as inequalities in material restrictions related to engaging in physical activity. Supplementary interventions focussing on childhood conditions which, partly, influence both personality and physical inactivity may also contribute to a reduction of socio-economic differences in physical inactivity.

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