Academic journal article The Journal of Consumer Affairs

A World beyond Family: How External Factors Impact the Level of Materialism in Children

Academic journal article The Journal of Consumer Affairs

A World beyond Family: How External Factors Impact the Level of Materialism in Children

Article excerpt

This article explores and puts together eight important factors influencing materialism in children aged 8-12 years using a large sample from Spain. An analysis of the relationship of this set of factors with children's materialism using structural equation modeling is provided as well. Results suggest that external influences are more important for Spanish children than family influences. Finally, the article provides a road map for practitioners as well as government agencies, and suggestions for further research.


The rising level of materialism in children and adolescents has prompted growing concerns among parents, educators, and social scientists (Chaplin and John 2007). Children are especially vulnerable and have been exposed to an upsurge of consumption. Aggressive marketing targeting children began in the 1980s (McNeal 1992) and has expanded ever since. In 2004, Schor reported that expenditures in marketing aimed at children in the United States had reached $15 billion a year, up from only $100 million in 1983 (Schor, 2004).

Along with children's involvement in consumer society, children's materialism (or a tendency to value material possessions as a path to happiness) has become a research area for many scholars. Over the last 35 years, a stream of research has explored the links between children's materialism and several other factors, such as age (Chan 2013; Chaplin and John 2007; Flouri 2004; Goldberg et al. 2003), self-esteem (Chaplin and John 2007, 2010), parents' materialism (Chaplin and Lowrey 2010; Flouri 1999; Goldberg et al. 2003), family income (Chan and Cai 2009; Goldberg et al. 2003), family disruption (Burroughs and Rindfleisch 1997; Roberts, Manolis, and Tanner 2003), media exposure (Buijzen and Valkenburg 2003, 2005; Churchill and Moschis 1979; Moschis and Moore 1982), and the influence of peers (Achenreiner 1997; Chan and Prendergast 2007; Flouri 1999) or media celebrities (Clark, Martin, and Bush 2001; La Ferle and Chan 2008). Knowledge of the factors linked to children's (and adolescents') materialism has advanced by leaps and bounds over the past 40 years, as has understanding of the interactions and relations among variables, although interpretations often vary.

This article enriches the literature with a research study that evaluates the influence of a range of factors identified in the literature on children's materialism using structural equation modeling. This study contributes to the existing literature in several ways. First, from a theoretical perspective, the study builds on the background of materialism, and is developed based on previous research and theoretical frameworks (e.g., Davila and Casabayo 2013). Second, from a methodological perspective, in order to gather more realistic information, a double survey to children (492 girls and boys aged 8-12 years) and their parents (385) was designed and conducted.

The article is organized as follows. The second section presents the conceptual background and hypotheses. The third section explains the research study and the results. Finally, the conclusions and directions for further research are explained in last section.


Materialism has been studied extensively. (1) In the academic literature, several definitions of materialism appear. For instance, Belk (1984) defined materialism as:

The importance a consumer attaches to worldly possessions. At the highest levels of materialism, such possessions assume a central role in a person's life and are believed to provide the greatest sources of satisfaction and dissatisfaction in life either directly (as ends) or indirectly (as means to end). (Belk 1984, 291)

For Richins and Dawson (1992), materialism revolves around three related values: centrality (a tendency to place possessions and their acquisition at the center of one's life), the pursuit of happiness (the view that possessions are essential to one's satisfaction and well-being), and possession-defined success (the tendency to judge one person's success by the number and quality of his possessions). …

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