Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



First Advisor

Lesley W. Reid - Committee Chair

Second Advisor

Erin Ruel - Committee Member

Third Advisor

Kirk Elifson - Committee Member


A major criticism of the environmental behavior literature is the nearly exclusive focus on the role of attitudes and individual-level characteristics. Despite this concentration on individual-level causes, variation in environmental behavior remains. As individual behavior becomes an increasingly significant source of pollution, a better understanding of the influences individual behavior is critical to addressing environmental degradation. This research re-directs the focus on individual-level influences on environmental behaviors by building models examining the varying dimensions of environmental behaviors as influenced by community characteristics. This is accomplished by testing a series of hypotheses under the auspices of two theoretical frameworks: the neoclassical economic theory and a social contextual model of environmental actions. Using individual-level data from the 1993 and 2000 General Social Survey and MSA data from the U.S. Census and the Environmental Protection Agency, I estimate two-level hierarchical models for three environmentally sensitive behaviors (environmentally sensitive food consumption, environmentally sensitive automobile use, and environmental activism). Multi-level analyses yield models revealing significant associations between MSA measures and individual environmental behaviors. Objective environmental conditions, region of MSA and MSA education level are significantly associated with environmentally sensitive food consumption behaviors, environmentally sensitive automobile use, and environmental activism behaviors, though their influence assumes diverse forms. Among the community measures, MSA education level is the primary social process that produces change in all environmental behaviors. In each of the models, MSA education level exhibits effects on all three behavioral measures and significant cross-level effects on automobile use behaviors. Living in a well educated MSA, particularly in the West or Northeast suggests higher environmental participation. Region of MSA is also a characteristic that must be considered when evaluating environmental behaviors, particularly for those living in the West and Northeast. Theoretical conclusions suggest that individual environmental behavior decision making is not simply a market exchange, but social forces are at work in the individual decision-making process.


Included in

Sociology Commons