Understanding the downshifting phenomenon: a case of South East Queensland, Australia.
Abstract: A quality of life survey of a sample of households across the Brisbane-South East Queensland region has identified about 28 percent of people as 'downshifters.' They are defined as people who voluntarily make a long-term change in their lifestyle--other than planned retirement--which reduces income and adjusts their lifestyle conditions. A typology of downshifters is developed on the basis of their motives for downshifting and their socio-economic and demographic characteristics using a Two Step Cluster Analysis. Results indicate that the social and economic circumstances and the reasons and methods of downshifting tend to vary substantially across the clusters.

Keywords: Quality of Life, Downshifting, Voluntary Simplification, Consumerism and Sea-change.
Article Type: Report
Subject: Quality of life (Demographic aspects)
Life style (Demographic aspects)
Consumer advocacy (Research)
Authors: Chhetri, Prem
Stimson, Robert J.
Western, John
Pub Date: 06/22/2009
Publication: Name: Australian Journal of Social Issues Publisher: Australian Council of Social Service Audience: Academic Format: Magazine/Journal Subject: Sociology and social work Copyright: COPYRIGHT 2009 Australian Council of Social Service ISSN: 0157-6321
Issue: Date: Summer, 2009 Source Volume: 44 Source Issue: 4
Topic: Event Code: 290 Public affairs; 310 Science & research
Geographic: Geographic Scope: Australia Geographic Name: Queensland; Queensland; Brisbane, Australia; Brisbane, Australia Geographic Code: 8AUST Australia; 8AUQU Queensland
Accession Number: 222487682
Full Text: 1. Introduction

Many people are working harder and longer hours, often in a more stressful and competitive work environment, than was the case in earlier times. For example, Campbell (2002) estimated the average weekly working time in Australia to be 41.9 hours in 2000, with about 26 percent of people working more than 45 hours a week. Nevertheless, despite this trend, others are reducing their work hours and their mode of work together with the nature of their consumption behaviour in the expectation that a simpler and more satisfying lifestyle will result. In the recent literature, this phenomenon of life simplification is often referred to as 'downshifting,' whereby people seek to establish an alternative lifestyle that is simpler, less work-oriented, and allows for greater time to be spent with family and friends.

Over the past few years, the simplification of life through voluntary action has become the focus of a significant research effort (see, for example, Leonard-Barton, 1981; Phehlke, 1989; Schor, 1991; Iwata, 1997; and Etzioni, 1998). Since the 1990s in Australia, downshifters have emerged as a group of relatively affluent, highly successful, middle aged people choosing to live a less work-oriented lifestyle (Craig-Lees and Hill, 2002). However, there are only a few studies that explicitly address the issue of downshifting. In particular, there is a lack of empirical studies with those by, Tan, (2000); McKnight, (2001); Craig-Lees and Hill, (2002); Hamilton and Mail, (2003), being the exceptions. Hamilton and Mail (2003) have called for a better understanding of the phenomenon because its impact on society is now greater than was the case some 20 or so years ago.

Research findings to date suggest that age (Hamilton and Mail, 2003), gender (The Harwood Group, 1995), lifecycle stage (The Harwood Group, 1995; Hamilton and Mail, 2003), economic well-being (Etzioni, 1998), and attitudes towards the environment (Leonard-Barton, 1981; Shama and Wisenblit, 1984; Iwata, 1997) may influence the decision to downshift. But none of these studies has attempted to explicitly categorise downshifters on the basis of their socio-economic and demographic characteristics.

The purpose of this paper is to provide a better understanding of downshifters through which four research questions will be answered. These include: who are downshifters; what characterises downshifters; why and how people downshift; and finally, are there different types of downshifters? For the present research, a somewhat liberal definition of 'downshifter' is adopted. Simply put, a downshifter is one who voluntarily makes a long-term change in lifestyle, other than planned retirement, which reduces income. The data used to explore the characteristics of downshifters in more detail were collected as part of a quality of life survey conducted in the Brisbane South East Queensland region, a large and rapidly growing region in South East Australia.

The structure of the paper is as follows. The paper first discusses in more detail the concept of 'downshifting', describes and characterises downshifters and then presents the results of modelling downshifters into distinct clusters based on their motives, life situation, socio-economic and demographic characteristics. It concludes with a discussion of the implications drawn from the research.

2. Genesis of the downshifting phenomenon

The phenomenon of downshifting or the voluntary simplification of one's life situation is not new. Its genesis can perhaps be seen in the search for transcendental connections and meanings by earlier spiritual movements such as those associated with the Amish or the Quakers. Thinkers like Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry Thoreau also proposed the idea of simple-living aesthetics. More recently, support from people with eco-centric views gave further impetus to simplicity movements. Schor (1998) sees downshifting as focussing on a voluntary reduction in income and cutting down on consumption, whilst for Etzioni (1998) downshifters are a subset of people practicing voluntary simplicity.

To better understand the downshifting phenomenon, it is important to distinguish concepts such as 'voluntary simplicity', 'sea change', and 'downshifting' as they are often used interchangeably in the literature.

Supporting the doctrines of frugal consumption, ecological awareness and personal growth, Elgin (1981) defines the term 'voluntary simplicity' as a way of living that is outwardly simple but inwardly rich. The use of the phrase was first detected in a paper titled 'Voluntary Simplicity' by Richard Gregg (1936) for whom it means "singleness of purpose, sincerity and honesty within, as well as avoidance of exterior clutter, of many possessions irrelevant to the chief purpose of life" (Gregg 1936, quoted by Elgin 1981, p. 31). Wachtel (1996) states that voluntary simplicity should not be seen as a single phenomenon rather it should be viewed as a complex set of attitudes, inclinations and changes in goals and lifestyles. Iwata (1997) considers voluntary simplicity as a tendency to consume less, while Juniu (2000) adds working less, spending less, and enjoying things more.

Less centred on the philosophical doctrine of the simplicity movement are the so-called 'sea changers,' who make a fundamental change in their lifestyle by moving, from larger cities to coastal and rural areas or smaller towns (Burnley and Murphy, 2003). Salt (2001) refers to this movement in Australia as 'The Big Shift', which he estimated to comprise approximately four million people who are making coastal areas their home outside the capital cities. Salt claims that these people are creating the 'Third Australian Culture' with no particular allegiance to the city or the bush.

The term 'downshifting' has been used to refer to the ability of people to practice a lifestyle that empowers them to control their life events and in doing so to be less oriented toward consumption (Leonard-Barton, 1980). It emphasises personal development (Zavestoski, 2002); and also refers to the process of attaining a state of satisfaction and fulfilment by changing work arrangements and lifestyle (Tan, 2000). Hamilton and Mail (2003, p.7) define downshifters as "those people who make a voluntary, long-term change in their lifestyle that involves accepting significantly less income and consuming less". Similarly, Drake (2001) refers downshifting to a process of changing voluntarily to a less demanding work schedule in order to enjoy life more.

Etzioni (1998) identifies three types of 'voluntary simplicity practitioners,' namely: 'downshifters'; 'strong simplifiers'; and 'simple living movement followers'. The 'downshifters' are well-off economically, but 'dress down' to adopt a seemingly simpler lifestyle by giving up some affordable privileges while still maintaining a degree of affluence. 'Strong simplifiers' abandon stressful and high income jobs (for example, lawyers, investment bankers) for lower paying jobs and a simpler lifestyle. While the category 'simple living movement' comprises people who have a more holistic approach and are dedicated to the ethos of voluntary simplicity, usually moving from affluent suburbs or gentrified parts of larger cities to smaller towns or rural areas - similar to those exhibited by sea-changers or tree-changers. Etzioni (1998) has been criticised by Hamilton and Mail (2003) for his assumption that all three types of simplifiers are economically well-off, as the evidence shows the presence of downshifters across income levels (Schor, 1998; Hamilton and Mail, 2003).

The Hamilton and Mail's (2003) study, as shown in Figure 1, proposes a classification scheme in which 'sea-changers' are a subset of 'downshifters,' while some voluntary simplifiers are a kind of 'sea-changer'. From this perspective, downshifters, VS and seachangers are not discrete groups; rather they are inclusive. However, this raises the question whether a 'sea-changer', who neither reduces income nor consumption, but just moves to the coast for a lifestyle change, is a 'downshifter'. To the authors it appears that not all 'sea-changers' are 'downshifters', nor for that matter are all 'downshifters' 'sea-changers.' Rather, 'downshifters' possibly overlap with some 'sea-changers' classified as 'downshifters', although further study is required to examine the distinctive characteristics of these overlapping groups.


On the basis of these definitions, downshifters, sea changers and those practising voluntary simplicity can be seen as displaying one or more of the following characteristics: i) acceptance of a voluntary lifestyle change for a substantial period of time; ii) adherence to the philosophy of voluntary simplicity; iii) belief in a culture that is less consumer oriented; iv) a conscious reduction of income by working fewer hours; and finally v) a search for fulfilment and self-actualisation. Despite subtle differences, the three terms, voluntary simplicity, sea change and downshifting, all suggest a voluntary simplification of lifestyle in order to achieve an improvement in quality of life thus leading to the definition provided earlier: the concept which we will call downshifting is to be understood as a long term change in lifestyle other than planned retirement which has been accompanied by the earning of less money.

3. Brisbane-South East Queensland Region

The Brisbane-South East Queensland (SEQ) region has been experiencing rapid growth and socio-economic transformation over the last two to three decades, with in-migration being a large factor driving that growth The region is characterised by a multi-centric urban structure, connecting the State capital Brisbane with two coastal growth corridors, south to the Gold Coast and north to the Sunshine Coast, and with a slower growing western corridor to Ipswich, a long-established industrial and mining city. The region's population increased from 1.8 to 2.78 million between 1991 and 2006, and it is forecasted to reach 3.96 million by 2026. This rapid growth is characterised by urban sprawl.

The movement to this 'sunbelt' growth region is importantly driven by the ageing of baby boomers, the attractions of a warmer climate, relaxed lifestyle, and ready access to amenities. The important role of tourism in the regional economy has been a strong factor in the growth that has occurred in the last decade. The region is referred to as a post-modern urban consumption landscape (Mullins 1991) but it has also been an epicentre of the sea-change movement for more than a decade (Burnley and Murphy 2003). If downshifters comprise a significant component of the population moving to the region, the implications of downshifting on the economy of the region need to be better understood, as some downshifting might be associated with zero-growth and non-consumption oriented cultural attitudes. The compatibility of two groups of people following different lifestyles, one adhering to the culture of mass-consumption and the other seeking a simpler lifestyle, needs to be proactively addressed in order to encourage a harmonious relationship between the two. Understanding the socio-economic and demographic characteristics of downshifters and their more consumption oriented contemporaries is important to identifying the needs and the potential implications for service provision and resource use.

4. Data Collection

In 2003, a survey of quality of life (QOL) in the SEQ region was conducted by the UQ Social Research Centre and the Centre for Research into Sustainable Urban and Regional Futures at the University of Queensland using a telephone interviewing mode. Data was collected from 1,612 respondents aged 18 years and older using a spatially stratified sample survey design to generate a minimum of 100 respondents across each of 10 sub-regional areas of the Brisbane-SEQ region. However, only half the sample (N = 773) were asked about their recent downshifting experience, if any. Other information on the socio-economic and demographic characteristics of respondents, along with locational information, was collected as a part of the broader survey. The distribution of downshifters across the region shows that 33 percent of the total downshifters in the sample live in the Brisbane metropolitan area at the centre of the region, which comprises around 50 per cent of the region's population. It is followed by the Gold Coast (15.3 percent), Ipswich (11.3 percent), Pine Rivers (6.9 percent) and Caloundra (6.4 percent).

In order to compare the results from the previous study by Hamilton and Mail (2003) the question they had used to identify downshifters was asked. It said: "In the last ten years have you voluntarily made a long term change in your life style other than planned retirement which has resulted in you earning less money?" The participants who answered "yes" were then asked a series of questions regarding the way they had downshifted.

5. Results and Analysis

The results of the data analysis are presented in this section. It has been structured to address the research questions that purport to define, describe and characterise downshifters in South East Queensland.

5.1 Who are downshifters?

To be identified as a downshifter the individual had to meet the criteria of voluntary participation, long-term change and a reduction in income. Included in the group therefore were those who had downshifted to pursue further study or start a new business. But excluded were persons who had made a short-term lifestyle change to look after a baby, for example, and had planned to return to work in the immediate future.

Using a broader definition, of the 773 participants who answered the downshifting question 28.5 precent can be classified as downshifters. The incidence of downshifting is close to both the Hamilton and Mail (2003) study finding, which estimated a 23 percent incidence of downshifting, and the US study by the Harwood Group (1995) which reported 28 per cent. However, Hamilton and Mail's (2003) study limits downshifters to a population group aged between 30 and 59 years, whereas in our dataset a substantial number of people are below the age of 30 and above 59 years. That, in part at least, accounts for the smaller proportion of downshifters found by Hamilton and Mail (2003). To make the result comparable, a narrower definition of the downshifting phenomenon is developed using more stringent criteria. For example, when the respondents are restricted to the age bracket of 30 to 59 years the proportion of downshifters in our survey sample decreases from 28 to 20 percent. Exclusion of people who had downshifted to look after a baby further reduces the figure to 18 percent. This also excludes downshifters who choose to retire. In our sample, a significant number of respondents about twenty five per cent are retired; among them only 8 percent describe themselves as downshifters. Therefore, the magnitude of downshifting can vary depending upon the way the phenomenon being conceptualised and measured.

5.2 What characterises downshifters?

Females are more likely to downshift than males, with 56 percent of female respondents having downshifted during the last 10 years compared to 44 percent of males (p< .05). The higher proportion of female downshifters is perhaps due to family reasons, with respondents nominating 'more time with the family' as an important reason for downshifting. Downshifters are also likely to be younger with only 9 percent over 60 compared with 32 percent of the non-downshifters. Having post secondary educational qualifications makes downshifting more likely. Among downshifters, 56 percent have attended post secondary institutions, while among non-downshifters it is a lesser 43 percent.

Relationships also make a difference. Downshifters are more likely to comprise couples with children and those in extended family relationships (56 percent) whereas non-downshifters are more likely to be single (21 percent) or in a couple relationship (26 percent). Involvement in the economy also distinguishes downshifters from their counterparts. Downshifters are more likely to have part time or causal work (44 percent compared to 25 percent) and less likely to have permanent full time work (45 percent compared to 64 percent). They are also more likely to have their partner employed (54 percent compared to 36 percent). Interestingly downshifters also report slightly higher incomes with more above AUD$36,000 per annum (75 percent compared to 59 percent). The place of birth, a potential surrogate for ethnicity, seems to have no bearing on downshifting, although the dichotomous categorisation, of Australian born versus non Australian born was broad. While these differences are not great they are statistically significant and do suggest some patterned differences between those who downshift and those who prefer to maintain an existing lifestyle.

Downshifters also tend to come from outside South East Queensland. In response to a question asking about where they had lived before downshifting, 28 percent of downshifters reported coming either from overseas (especially New Zealand) or other states and territories compared to only 19 per cent of non-downshifters (p <0.05). Further, downshifters are more likely to be recent settlers with only forty percent living in their current place of residence for more than five years compared to sixty percent of non-downshifters. Average length of residency at current address for downshifters is seven years; whilst for non-downshifters it is eleven years, which is statistically significant (p <0.05).

The phenomenon of downshifting has also been cross-tabulated against occupation. Using the one-digit Australian Standard Classification of Occupations (ASCO) code, respondents who had downshifted are categorised into 9 designated categories as defined by Australian Bureau of Statistics. Despite the insignificant difference found between the two groups (p <0.213), downshifters are more likely to be employed as Managers and Administrators or Professionals as compared to non-downshifters (35 percent against 27.2 percent). Downshifters are also less likely to be employed as Tradespersons or Labourers.

5.3 Why and how people downshift?

In order to help understand why people downshift or simplify their lifestyle, researchers have investigated the reasons they provide (Etzoini, 1998, Leonard-Barton, 1981; Shama and Wisenblit, 1984; Itawa, 1997, 1998; and Tan, 2000). Chhetri et al., (2009) categorise the reasons for downshifting into economic, social and personal and provide a theoretical framework to conceptualise the downshifting phenomenon. Some downshift because they have acquired anti-materialistic values, while others aim to adjust to their changing personal or family needs. A few come to reject the pursuit of wealth, and there are those who downshift due to stress, fatigue and unhappiness. There are also those reasons that are related to the increasing ascendancy of the market, the consumerist society and the rejection of consumerism. Hamilton (2003) argues that downshifting is a response "to the post industrial society where manipulative marketing, obsessive consumerism, commoditization, endemic alienation and loneliness are relinquished for a value based social structure reflecting 'true' individual identity and social responsibility".

To explore the reasons for and the impact of downshifting, we asked two related questions. First we presented a list of reasons for downshifting to respondents and asked them to select the most important; then from a further list we sought information on how lifestyles had changed as a consequence of downshifting. Subjects were allowed to choose only a single answer from the list of reasons.

A number of studies (Andrews and Withney 1976, Lane, 1993; Diener and Biswas 2002) have argued that life conditions, particularly family and other close social relationships, are the drivers of quality of life rather than increased financial well being. Family becomes of primary importance for an individual's well being and happiness, followed by the experience of friendship (Lane, 1993). Andrews and Withney (1976) reported that economic status has little effect on the well-being of a person and no significant effect on satisfaction with life-as-a-whole. When personal and social well being is threatened by economic pressures emanating from paid work individuals may escape by realigning their priorities so that family and personal relationships come to the fore and work recedes. In our study, results show that (See Figure 2) a quarter of the downshifters nominated seeking more control of their lives and personal fulfilment as the main drivers of lifestyle change, followed closely by wanting more time with family (23 percent). A healthier lifestyle was important to 16 per cent and to achieve more balance in life to 14 per cent.

Some studies (Freedman, 1978; Lane, 1993) report that the value associated with material wealth diminishes and becomes less meaningful once the 'affluence threshold' is reached. When a level of affluence is achieved, 'getting balanced', 'getting free' and 'being authentic' become the drivers of lifestyle change (Tan, 2000, p.158). Or in terms of Maslow's theory of hierarchical needs (1968), once lower order material needs have been met, higher order needs such as personal fulfilment, self-esteem and self-actualisation or authenticity become more important. One strategy for meeting these needs (Tan 2000) is by downshifting. However in our findings, more broadly based reasons such as leading a more environmentally friendly and less materialistic lifestyle were found to be less important (important to no more than 3 per cent of downshifters), which is somewhat surprising as these reasons are often considered to be the core motives behind the simplicity movement.

When asked about what had produced lifestyle changes by far the most common response had to do with economic factors. Figure 3 shows that

"stopping work" was the most common response (23 percent); this was followed by "reducing working hours" (16 percent), "changing careers" (14 percent) and "taking up a lower paying job" (13 percent).

In terms of gender differences, there is a higher percentage of females among those downshifters who had either stopped work (70 percent) or reduced working hours (65 percent). As anticipated, downshifting for family reasons was more common among females; 95 per cent of those who downshifted to look after babies were women as were 67 per cent of those who planned to spend more time with their families. In contrast, changing careers and starting a new business were the two factors contributing most to lifestyle change among men. Seventy percent of people who downshift by changing careers are males, while for those who started a new business it is sixty percent. These findings indicate the existence of gender-based differences in life situations and available choices.


Finally, when asked about their satisfaction with the change in lifestyle, 83 percent of downshifters report they are happy with the change, despite the fact that 53 percent reported that they are missing the extra income that could have been generated had they not downshifted.

5.4. Are there different types of downshifters?

Our purpose in this paper differs somewhat from previous studies in that we are concerned to develop a typology of downshifters using a wide range of variables--including reasons for and means of downshifting and socio-economic, and demographic characteristics of downshifters. We have seen already that, downshifters and non-downshifters differ on selected socio-economic and demographic characteristics. In an attempt to develop a typology of downshifters based on these differences a Two Step Cluster Analysis was used to identify possible natural groupings of downshifters. Using street level geocoding for the residential addresses of survey respondents, the locational pattern of the cluster members was also mapped (see figure 4).

A total of 17 variables relating to the survey respondent's socio-economic and demographic characteristics, as well as their motives for and means of downshifting, served as the basis for this cluster analysis. The specific variables include: age; gender; marital status; education; household income; household type; dwelling type; job tenure; partner's employment status; type of place; working hours per week; person per household; number of jobs; occupation; reasons for downshifting; means of downshifting; and whether respondents miss extra income. The importance of factors relating to the main reasons for downshifting was rated on a five point Likert scale. The factors included: 'more balance in life'; 'look after a baby'; 'time with family'; 'control and personal fulfilment'; 'healthier lifestyle'; 'less materialistic lifestyle'; 'environmentally friendly lifestyle'; and 'financial independence'. The ways in which people have downshifted included: 'change to a lower paying job'; 'reduce work hours'; 'refuse a promotion'; 'stop paid work'; 'change careers'; 'start a business'; and 'go back to study'.



The cluster analysis produced a three cluster solution which gave good separation among the groups on the base variables and also acceptable cluster sizes. As well it provided an understandable and consistent interpretation. We have named the clusters as follows:

* Cluster 1: Non-Working, Mature Married Women Downshifters

* Cluster 2: Family-focussed, Change-seeking Mature Downshifters

* Cluster 3: Singles and Single Parents, Eco-centric, Disadvantaged Downshifters.

Non-Working, Mature Married Women Downshifters is the second smallest cluster (N = 63) and includes a high proportion of females who are generally less educated and older and married couples who live on relatively lower incomes, either superannuation or welfare benefits; although this does not necessarily mean low assets. They live mainly in separate dwellings and show a preference for coastal or rural areas. They may be described as 'hobby workers', as half of them work less than 10 hours a week, usually on a causal or contract basis. More time for family and their own health are cited as the most important reasons for downshifting. In order to achieve these goals, they decided to quit work or at least reduce the hours worked. They do not miss the extra income they once had. The needs and aspirations of this cluster of downshifters are different from the others. They see downshifting as strengthening family support networks to enable the creation of social capital through social bonding at the family level.

Family-Focused, Change-Seeking, Mature Downshifters is the second cluster (N= 82). It is a gender-balanced group, the members of which are largely married couples with children. The employment status of a partner, marital status, job tenure, employment status, household type, number of jobs, weekly working hours, education and household incomes are the main variables discriminating this cluster of downshifters from the others. Gender, age and motives were not found to be significant discriminators.

Downshifters in this cluster usually live in separate houses and are high income earners, yet they miss the extra income they once had. They work for wages or a salary or run their own business. They are better educated than the members of other clusters and therefore are more likely to be working on a permanent full-time basis as professionals or knowledge workers. The presence of dependent children for many of them has put pressure on both parents to work longer hours in relative terms even after downshifting. Therefore, downshifting for this cluster does not necessarily mean a substantial drop in income. Household income, in general, is still reasonably high because of the involvement of the downshifter in professional or managerial work and also because of the contribution of both partners to total household income.

Additional time with the family, improved control over their life and greater fulfilment are the most important reasons for this group to have downshifted, although time off after the birth of a child was mentioned by some. Starting a new business is commonly reported by professionals who were investment bankers, lawyers, or even retired defence personnel, and this seems to be the most important adjustment outcome from the downshifting process for this cluster. Also important is the decision to opt for a lower-paid job or to refuse a promotion when it had been offered.

Singles and Single Parents, Eco-Centric, Disadvantaged Downshifters is the third cluster (N= 57) of downshifters, which is male-dominated and single. Significant factors discriminating this cluster are marital status, they are overwhelmingly single, non-traditional household type, dwelling type, employment status, age and motives or reasons behind downshifting. Education, job tenure, occupation household income, and working hours per week were not found to be significant in discriminating this cluster.

Downshifters in this cluster are most likely to be living in non-traditional households, either alone or in a shared households or as a single parent household. They typically live in apartments or units. Many have either gone back to university or technical college for further study or have reduced their working hours. The majority are employed, around a third as professionals or managers. They hold pro-environmental attitudes and express a desire to live a less materialistic and a healthier lifestyle. Their preferred job is permanent part-time, perhaps due to the availability of flexible work arrangements, and they want more leisure time with children and family. They are relatively happy with their decision to downshift, which they entered by choice, not by chance.

This cluster is more heterogeneous with regard to income and social characteristics than the first two. The relatively, high number of single parent households--often female led--could make this segment of the cluster more vulnerable. The downshifting decision for some members of this cluster appears to be linked to a life cycle transition. Despite their commitment for a long term lifestyle change, it could be anticipated that some may rejoin the workforce after the completion of study or as other goals are achieved.

6. Discussion and conclusions

Downshifting may be seen as offering an 'alternative' to a consumer oriented lifestyle. Through the process of downshifting, people attempt to adjust their lives to suit a new set of life conditions. For some it is an adjustment strategy to accommodate changing family conditions and a lifecycle transition. For others it is a means of countering the culture of conspicuous consumption. However, downshifting is only likely to be successfully achieved, if a certain level of comfort or personal well-being is maintained. Downshifting does not propagate the philosophy of sacrifice, though it purports to "target consumerism, [but] not consumption" (Etzioni, 1998: 634). Downshifting does not argue for people to 'stop working' or 'stop spending' (Juniu, 2000); rather it advocates for balance in life--neither poverty reduction nor empowerment or self-denial. Elgin (1981) states poverty is involuntary and debilitating, whereas simplicity is voluntary and enabling.

There is still more to be explored regarding the decision to downshift. Downshifting means different things to different people. Using the criteria of voluntary long-term lifestyle change, 28 percent of the participants answering the downshifting questions were classified as downshifters. However, when a set of more stringent criteria are applied (e.g. age group between 30 and 59 years and reasons such as the people who downshift to look after a baby), the proportion of downshifters to total sample reduced to 18 per cent.

The survey data analysed and discussed in this paper--along with the findings of other studies on downshifting that we cite--reveals that, in general, people downshift by stopping paid work or reducing working hours. Changing careers or taking up a lower-paying job are also other common ways to downshift. Generally men are more inclined toward changing careers or starting a new business, whilst women exhibit a greater propensity towards stopping paid work altogether or reducing work hours, which indicates gender-based differences in life situations and available choices. A little over four-fifths of our survey respondents who had downshifted reported that they are happy with their decision, despite slightly more than half of them missing the extra income they used to have. In analysing the motives and socio-economic and demographic characteristics of downshifters, the research reported here has attempted to 'simplify the simplifiers' by developing a typology of downshifters using a multivariate clustering technique to reveal three clusters of downshifting differentiated by particular socio-economic and demographic characteristics and reasons for downshifting.

Findings from the research reported here do not indicate a substantial decline in income among the downshifters and particularly among the 'middle income earners'. Therefore, downshifting seems to have emerged as a middle-income phenomenon. Despite their moderate level of income, these downshifters can still afford to maintain a comfortable and desirable lifestyle while being at the same time less consumption oriented. Less consumption for downshifters does not necessarily mean minimum consumption at the level of basic needs, rather, the focus of life for downshifters appears to be on 'wise consumption'. The downshifters do not propose a life of scarcity, and it is important for certain, if unspecified, level of affluence to have been reached before the decision of downshifting is made. People in poor or near-poor conditions cannot give up the consumerist lifestyle that they never had. As we approach the post industrial market driven society a number of structural responses to increases in market power can be observed. The emergence of boundaryless careers and non-standard employment relations is one, the marked growth of self employment is a second and the emergence of significant groups of downshifters is a third. Whether downshifting is heralding a major structural change in society still remains to be determined.


This paper is based on research funded through the Australian Research Council Discovery program, project #DP0209146.


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Table 1: Summary of base variables in percentage constituting
the three-cluster solution

Variables                           Cluster 1   Cluster 2   Cluster 3

                  Overall Sample    63          82          57
Gender            Male              17.5        48.2        61.7
[chi square] =    Female            82.5        51.8        38.3
24.4, of = 2,

Partner's         No                54.4        9.4         93.3
employment        Yes               45.6        90.6        6.7
[chi square] =
101.1, df = 2,

Age               18-29 years       8.8         10.6        41.7
[chi square] =    30-59 years       66.7        87.1        53.3
47.6. df = 4,     60+               24.6        2.4         5.0

Education         Less than         59.6        37.6        38.3
[chi square] =      Year 12
10.6. of = 6,     Year 12           22.8        22.4        28.3
p<0.05,           Non degree post   10.5        20.0        16.7
Significant         school (TAFE)
                  University        7.0         20.0        16.7

Household type    Single person     15.8        0.0         23.3
[chi square]        HH
N.A.              Group HH          0.0         2.4         15.0
                  One parent HH     7.0         0.0         20.0
                  Couple with no    26.3        24.7        6.7
                  Couple with       43.9        70.6        11.7
                  Extended family   7.0         2.4         23.3

Marital status    Single            3.5         1.2         78.3
[chi square]      Married/de        71.9        98.8        1.7
N.A.                facto
                  Divorced/         12.3        0.0         16.7
                  Widowed           12.3        0.0         3.3

Income            Less than         49.1        17.5        53.3
[chi square] =      $36,000
31.02, df = 4,    $36,000 to        40.0        41.2        23.3
p<0.05,             $57,000
Significant       $57,000 or more   10.5        41.2        23.3

Employment        Wages/salaries    1.0         76.2        56.7
[chi square]      Own business      1.2         16.0        18.3
N.A.              Full time home    49.1        7.1         0.4
                  Unemployed,       14.0        1.0         6.2
                    looking for
                  Unemployed, not   8.8         0           16.7
                    for work
                  Retired           26.3        1.0         1.7

Occupations       Professionals     25.0        43.5        31.7
(ASCO)              and Managers
[chi square] =    Associate         10.7        10.6        8.3
11.75. df = 8,      professionals
p<0.05,           Tradespersons &   8.9         16.5        15.0
Non-Significant     clerical
                  Intermediate      30.4        18.8        23.3
                  Elementary        25.0        10.6        21.7

(Source: The authors.)

Table 2: Classification results of predicted group
membership of cluster

           Predicted Group membership

Cluster    1          2          3          Total

1          56 (98%)   0          1          57
2          0          80 (94%)   5          85
3          7          2          51 (85%)   60

(Source: The authors.)

Figure 2 The motives for downshifting in SEQ region

A more environmentally
friendly lifestyle                        1%
More control and personal
fulfilment                               24%
More time with family                    23%
A healthier lifestyle                    16%
More balance in life                     14%
Time off to look
after a baby                             10%
More financial
independence                             10%
A less materialistics
lifestyle                                 2%

(Source: The authors; SEQ QOL Survey.)

Note: Table made from pie chart.
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