Academic journal article The Journal of Consumer Affairs

Peer Group Influence on Urban Preadolescents' Attitudes toward Material Possessions: Social Status Benefits of Material Possessions

Academic journal article The Journal of Consumer Affairs

Peer Group Influence on Urban Preadolescents' Attitudes toward Material Possessions: Social Status Benefits of Material Possessions

Article excerpt


This study explores peer influence on urban preadolescents' perceptions of social status benefits of material possessions. A longitudinal design is used. Natural, interaction-based peer groups are identified through the Social Cognitive Map procedure. Findings indicate that high-status rather than low-status peers in a group are influential on individuals. Strong influence of high-status peers is observed in both boys' and girls' groups. High-status peers are particularly influential on low-status individuals in girls' groups and on high-status individuals in boys' groups. Additionally, high-status peers' influence is stronger on African Americans than on Hispanic Americans and tends to be stronger on Hispanic Americans than on White Americans. These findings imply that special attention should he given to high-status youth in groups who highly endorse social benefits of material possessions. Characteristics of the target youth (e.g., gender, ethnicity and individual status) should be considered in future efforts for reducing the pervasiveness of materialism.

Materialism has negative impacts on individuals' well-being and social adaptedness (Kasser and Ahuvia 2002; Kasser and Ryan 1993). As concerns grow over rising levels of materialism among youth (Goldberg et al. 2003; Schor 2004), understanding the ontogeny of materialism has recently moved to the center stage in research. In this study, we aim to examine peer influence on youth's attitudes toward material possessions, specifically perceptions of social status benefits. Previous studies indicate that social success is an important theme in materialism (Richins 2004; Richins and Dawson 1992), in that persons with strong materialistic

values use possessions as an indicator of their own and others' success. Social success for youth is often indexed by high levels of social status (for instance, popularity) among peers (LaFontana and Cillessen 2010; Lease, Musgrove, and Axelrod 2002). Hence, to understand the emergence of materialism among youth, it is important to investigate how youth form perceptions of social status benefits associated with material possessions.

Two important aspects of peer influence have been proposed in a recent conceptual model (Brown et al. 2008) and in several theories (Bandura 1986; Latane 1981): (1) the strength of peer influence on an individual and (2) the degree to which an individual is influenced by peers. We focus on these two aspects of peer influence in this study. Preadolescents are an especially appropriate age group in which to apply this model because materialism peaks in preadolescence (ages 12-13) for individuals in the developmental age span of 8 to 18 years (Chaplin and John 2007) and conformity to peers--which increases with age in childhood--also peaks in this period and decreases afterwards (Monahan, Steinberg, and Cauffman 2009; Steinberg and Silverberg 1986).


A Natural Interaction-Based Peer Group

It should be noted that a peer group in this study differs from that in previous studies in the consumer literature (Moschis and Churchill 1978; Netemeyer, Bearden, and Teel 1992). In previous studies, a peer group literally represents an individual's broad peer network, for instance, other children in the same class or neighborhood with whom this individual may or may not interact. A peer group in this study is a social group with members who interact with each other frequently. Social ties for such a group are natural and interconnected interactions among members (Cairns and Cairns 1994; Cairns et al. 1995). To identify such a group, we apply a method of studying groups used in developmental psychology.

Group Norms: High-Status Peers in a Group

Research on social development makes it clear that peer groups are important in modifying and shaping individual members' development in preadolescence (Cairns et al. 1995; Rubin et al. …

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