Economic materialism


Materialism is a personal attitude which attaches importance to acquiring and consuming material
goods In economics Economics () is the social science that studies how people interact with value; in particular, the Production (economics), production, distribution (economics), distribution, and Consumption (economics), consumption of goods ...
. The use of the term materialistic to describe a person's personality or a society tends to have a negative or critical connotation. Also called acquisitiveness, it is often associated with a
value system In ethics Ethics or moral philosophy is a branch of philosophy Philosophy (from , ) is the study of general and fundamental questions, such as those about Metaphysics, existence, reason, Epistemology, knowledge, Ethics, values, Philosophy ...
which regards
social status Social status is the level of social value a person is considered to hold. More specifically, it refers to the relative level of respect, honour Honour ( British English) or honor (American English American English (AmE, AE, AmEng, USEng ...
as being determined by
affluence Wealth is the abundance (economics), abundance of Value (economics), valuable financial assets or property, physical possessions which can be converted into a form that can be used for financial transaction, transactions. This includes the core ...
conspicuous consumption In sociology and in economics, the term conspicuous consumption describes and explains the consumer A consumer is a person or a group who intends to order, orders, or uses purchased goods, products, or services Service may refer to: Activitie ...
), as well as the belief that possessions can provide happiness.
Environmentalism Environmentalism or environmental rights is a broad philosophy Philosophy (from , ) is the study of general and fundamental questions, such as those about reason, Metaphysics, existence, Epistemology, knowledge, Ethics, values, Phil ...
can be considered a competing orientation to materialism. Materialism can be considered a pragmatic form of
enlightened self-interest Age of Enlightenment, Enlightened self-interest is a philosophy in ethics which states that persons who act to further the interests of others (or the interests of the group or groups to which they belong), ultimately serve their own self-interest. ...
based on a prudent understanding of the character of
market-oriented economy A market economy is an economic system in which the decisions regarding investment, Production (economics), production and Distribution (economics), distribution are guided by the price signals created by the forces of supply and demand. The majo ...
and society.


Consumer research typically looks at materialism in two ways: one as a collection of personality traits; and the other as an enduring belief or value.

Materialism as a personality trait

Russell W. Belk conceptualizes materialism to include three original personality traits. * ''Nongenerosity'' – an unwillingness to give or share possession with others. * ''Envy'' – desire for other people's possessions. * ''Possessiveness'' – concern about loss of possessions and a desire for the greater control of ownership.

Materialism as a value

Acquisition centrality is when acquiring material possession functions as a central life goal with the belief that possessions are the key to happiness and that success can be judged by a person's material wealth and the quality and price of material goods she or he can buy.

Growing materialism in the western world

In the western world, there is a growing trend of increasing materialism in reaction to discontent. Research conducted in the United States shows that recent generations are focusing more on money, image, and fame than ever before, especially since the generations of Baby Boomers and Generation X. In one survey of Americans, over 7% said they would seriously murder someone for $3 million and 65% of respondents said they would spend a year on a deserted island to earn $1 million. A survey conducted by the University of California and the American Council on Education on 250,000 new college students found that their main reason for attending college was to gain material wealth. From the 1970s to the late 1990s, the percentage of students who stated that their main reason for going to college was to develop a meaningful life philosophy dropped from 73% to 44%, while the purpose of obtaining financial gain rose from about 44% to 75%.

Materialism and happiness

A series of studies have observed a correlation between materialism and unhappiness. Studies in the United States have found that an increase in material wealth and goods in the country has had little to no effect on the well-being and happiness of its citizens. Tibor Scitovsky called this a "joyless economy" in which people endlessly pursue comforts to the detriments of pleasures. Using two measures of subjective well-being, one study found that materialism was negatively related to happiness, meaning that people who tended to be more materialistic were also less happy with themselves and their lives. When people derive a lot of pleasure from buying things and believe that acquiring material possessions are important life goals, they tend to have lower life satisfaction scores. Materialism also positively correlates with more serious psychological issues like depression, narcissism and paranoia. However, the relationship between materialism and happiness is more complex. The direction of the relationship can go both ways. Individual materialism can cause diminished well-being or lower levels of well-being can cause people to be more materialistic in an effort to get external gratification. In many East Asian cultures, the relationship between materialism, happiness, and well-being are associated with neutral or positive feelings. In China, materialism is often motivated by and through social relations, like families or villages, rather than an individualist pursuit of wealth. This suggests that materialism in interdependent, community-oriented cultures, like in China and Japan, may improve well-being and happiness rather harm them. However, even in independent cultures, people with social motives to acquire wealth may view materialism positively, indicating that the relationship between materialism and happiness is more complex than cultural differences. Instead, research shows that purchases made with the intention of acquiring life experiences, such as going on a family vacation, make people happier than purchases made to acquire material possessions such as an expensive car. Even just thinking about experiential purchases makes people happier than thinking about material ones.A survey conducted by researchers at the Binghampton University School of Management found differences between what is called “success materialism” and “happiness materialism.” People who see materialism as a source of success tend to be more motivated to work hard and drive to succeed in order to make their lives better as opposed to people who see materialism as a source of happiness. However neither mindset accounts for other factors, such as income or status, that can affect happiness.

See also

* Anti-consumerism * Capitalism * Consumerism * Greed * Material feminism * Post-materialism


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