Rise of the suburban downshifter

2003

Despite increasing pressures to earn and spend more, a new study has found

that over a quarter of British adults aged 30-59 have voluntarily made a long-term change in lifestyle that resulted in them earning an average of 40 percent less.

But surprisingly people are not leaving city life for the type of idyllic countryside existence promoted on television – the new trend in downshifting is predominantly a suburban phenomenon.

The three principal methods of downshifting are reducing working hours, stopping work altogether and changing careers. Women are more likely to stop paid work or reduce their hours, while men are more likely to change careers or change to a lower-paying job.

The study by University of Cambridge visiting scholar Clive Hamilton. Dr Hamilton and the British Market Research Bureau (BMRB) measured the backlash against Britain's consumer culture and found that women are more likely to downshift than men and that downshifters are more likely to be in their 30s.

The survey dispels the myth that downshifting is confined to middle-aged wealthier individuals who have accumulate substantial assets and can afford the financial risk.

Downshifters are spread fairly evenly across age groups and social grades, with only a slightly higher proportion being from the highest social grades A and B. More than a quarter surveyed who downshifted over the last decade did so in the last year, suggesting a strong rising trend.

While downshifting is common in all regions, a downshifter is more likely to live in the South West, North and South East. There are fewer downshifters in London or in Yorkshire and Humberside.

According to Dr Hamilton, the regional disparity can be partly explained by greater pressures to conform in the latter regions, because residents are poorer or, in the case of London, because they are unable to resist the pressure to consume at high levels.

The most common reason for change is to spend more time with family, especailly popular among downshifters in their 30s and 40s. Few downshifters are motivated by post-materialistic values, but all seem to want to recapture control over their time.

Dr Hamilton, said that the research had uncovered a large class of citizens who consciously reject consumerism and material aspirations.

"They do it because the excessive pursuit of money and materialism comes at a substantial cost to their own lives and those of their families,” he said. “The emergence of a large group of downshifters in the UK challenges the political parties to question their most fundamental assumptions about what makes for a better society."