CORVALLIS, Ore. - A survey about water use and attitudes toward conservation among Oregonians has found that older, more affluent residents are most likely to take steps to conserve water.
Contrary to some past research, the Oregon State University analysis did not find significantly more conservation behavior among younger residents, those with more education, or those who live in urban, as opposed to rural settings.
The findings, published in The Social Science Journal, outline some of the challenges policy makers may face in motivating more people to conserve water, as the state increasingly will struggle to keep up with demand in the future.
"This research showed that most Oregonians clearly understand we are going to face water shortages in the future, although most of them say they haven't yet been affected by this," said Erika Wolters, an instructor of political science in the OSU College of Liberal Arts, which supported this study.
"We expected to find young people more involved in water conservation, but actually found the opposite," Wolters said. "Gender also didn't appear to play much of a role. Water conservation was most closely associated with age and income, possibly the ability to afford water-saving devices and interest in reducing costs.
"Those with higher income may also have more time and resources to commit to the environmental causes they believe in," she added.
The report suggested that if higher income is predictive of water conservation behavior, then efforts to motivate such behavior may need to consider discussion of rebates, incentives or other programs that would appeal to lower-income residents.
The study also concluded, however, that some water-saving practices are fairly common by many people of all ages, incomes and situations - things like washing full loads of laundry, repairing leaky faucets, watering plants less often.
Both climate change and population growth in Oregon and the West are expected to place much greater demands upon limited water supplies in the future, the report noted. And although Oregon has a reputation for being an environmentally progressive state - it was named number two in "America's Greenest States" in one 2007 survey - it's not as certain whether environmental attitudes will always translate directly into behavior.
This study of 808 Oregonians tried to determine what sociodemographic factors were most closely linked to water conservation behavior. It did find that most residents understand there's a problem, and a majority of them take at least some personal steps to save water. But unlike some other research, the analysis did not find that young, female and urban residents were the ones most likely to conserve water. Only higher income was predictive of that behavior.
The research ultimately concluded that neither attitudes nor sociodemographics could completely predict environmental behavior, and that old, established habits and issues of self-identity may play a large role.
Click photos to see a full-size version. Right click and save image to download.
Erika Wolters, 541-737-1421