Dissertation Abstracts

European Food Consumption Patterns: Convergence or Persistent Difference?

Author: Healy, Amy E, Amy.Healy@ul.ie
Department: Sociology
University: University of Limerick, Ireland
Supervisor: Brendan Halpin
Year of completion: 2012
Language of dissertation: English

Keywords: convergence , Western Europe , food , consumption
Areas of Research: Comparative Sociology , Stratification , Social Indicators


This study analyses food expenditure patterns to determine if consumption is converging both within and across nation states in the European Union.
Convergence theory posits that with similar levels of economic development, countries should be becoming similar in other ways as well, such as organisational and political structures, and cultural patterns.
Food expenditure data from household budget surveys have been analysed from 1985 to 2005 for a sample of countries. The data sets include the UK’s Expenditure and Food Survey, Ireland’s Household Budget Survey, Italy’s Indagine sui Consumi delle famiglie and France’s Enquête budget des familles. Given the influence of European Union membership specifically and globalisation more generally, it could be hypothesised that national differences in expenditure patterns may not be important with other factors, such as educational attainment, being more discriminating.
To assess change within countries, changes in the mean percentage of food expenditures and coefficient of variations for major food groupings were compared over time. To assess change between countries, cluster analysis and fractional logistic and fractional multinomial logistic regression were used as well.
This analysis has found that a country is still a significant determinant of food expenditure patterns. However, for most of the countries studied, the average national food budget has changed quite a bit. In the UK, Ireland, and France, there is a much higher reliance on prepared foods and foods eaten away from home, especially for households with younger heads who are employed and have a higher level of educational attainment. By contrast, groups that spend relatively little on dining out are the old, the retired, the unemployed, those not working, and couples with many children. These are also the same groups that are usually associated with social exclusion and food poverty. Lack of expenditure on dining out may indicate a preference for foods cooked and eaten at home, or it may be an indication of social exclusion/food poverty.
Italy shows the least amount of change over time and the least amount of difference between social groupings. It is the only country that leans more towards convergence than divergence in expenditure patterns over time.
Across and within countries, in terms of socio-demographic groupings, gender differences and differences based on region are decreasing over time within all countries while age differences are increasing. There were few differences found initially for urban vs. rural residency, and, for the most part, those that did exist have shown convergence over time.

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