Saving water: A causal model of household conservation


The causes of household water conservation are studied using combined survey and billing-record data on 431 households in a community that recently experienced a severe water shortage. The largest reductions in water use, in absolute terms, occurred in households that had been using the most water to begin with. Smaller users often made larger percentage reductions. The most effective conservation steps involved voluntary changes in private behavior. Such steps were more likely to arise from idealistic than from economic motives, and were more common in larger, better-educated households. Idealistic motives themselves were more common in younger, better-educated, and more affluent households. In contrast, economic motives were more common in poorer, less well-educated households. Although income and education are important variables in the model, their direct and indirect effects nearly cancel each other out, so they are not good predictors of conservation. These findings have both practical and theoretical implications.

Publication Date


Journal Title

Sociological Perspectives



Digital Object Identifier (DOI)

Document Type



Copyright © 1983 Pacific Sociological Association