Academic journal article Italian Sociological Review

Surveys on Household Consumption: An Overview of the Most Common Surveys1

Academic journal article Italian Sociological Review

Surveys on Household Consumption: An Overview of the Most Common Surveys1

Article excerpt

1. The sociology of consumption

This paper presents an overview of some of the most common surveys of household consumption. The number of sociology studies addressing household consumption has increased greatly over the last twenties years. The reasons for this growth are numerous, with the three most influential factors being: i) Bourdieu's (1984) analysis of consumption behaviour, a study which emphasised the importance of consumption practices in social differentiation; ii) the studies by Castells (1977), which have provoked an increased use of the concept of collective consumption; and iii) the diffusion of the culture of studying the consumption of goods, their use and significance. Consequent to these developments, sociologists have started to analyse many aspects of consumption. Some studies have focussed on the consumption behaviours of individuals - the micro-sociological perspective, while others have focussed on the consumer behaviours of an aggregate of individuals - the macro-sociological perspective; for example, some people buy certain products to indicate that they live in a particular way or that they believe something.

The study of consumption is not merely the analysis of consumed products. Indeed, this field of research addresses many different elements of product consumption, including: the decision processes involved in choosing one product over another; consumer practices; the quality of goods consumed; the price of goods; the strategies used to promote specific products; and a variety of other features. The analysis of these factors can be carried out in relation to the individual or on the societal level.

Moreover, changing consumption practices have undeniable characterised the development of society and can be been correlated with the level of social status in people. Indeed, nowadays we can affirm that consumption is also associated with the diffuse use of information technology within society. Thanks to the widespread availability of the Internet, an increasing portion of society is starting to buy and even exchange products online. What is more, consumption practice has become a method through which people use to communicate with others.

In some countries, the current economic crisis has reduced as well as modified both individual and family consumption practices, thus the need to study these practices has become increasingly important. The present overview, does not helps us understand the changes in individual and family behaviours and identify new strategies for combating the economic crisis, rather it presents a summary of the most common surveys about household consumption. The surveys addressed in this essay consider household consumption as well as general family finances. Some other surveys are also considered that do not specifically regard consumption, but which are nevertheless useful here because they address variables associated with household finances or general consumption. All of the surveys considered were funded by public institutions, public utility foundations or consumer organisations; none were sponsored by private companies.

In some cases, especially for some international surveys, like the Household Budget Survey (HBS) and the Household Finance and Consumption Network (HFCN), survey information is difficult to recognise accurately because such supranational surveys collect their data from nationals' survey, which may be carried out in different ways. For example, in some countries the HBS is carried out every year and in other countries only every five years. Of consequence, it is only possible to perform an international comparative study every five years.

The surveys described here concern the European area and they are classified into three groups: surveys that regard the European area, national areas or local areas. Here, the last cluster is relative to Italy. As much information about each survey is provided as was possible to obtain, including items such as the name of the principal investigator, the sponsoring institution (and thus owner of the data), the surveyed topics, the sampling procedure and interview techniques used, the frequency of data collection and the survey's website address. …

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