Academic journal article Management & Marketing

What Is Materialism? Testing Two Dominant Perspectives on Materialism in the Marketing Literature

Academic journal article Management & Marketing

What Is Materialism? Testing Two Dominant Perspectives on Materialism in the Marketing Literature

Article excerpt

"You know that we are living in a material world. And I am a material girl " .

Madonna (Sire Records, 1984)


We live in the world of unprecedented material abundance (Van Boven and Gilovich, 2003). As the opening quote illustrates, materialism has become a way of "the good life" in western societies, where individuals strive for materialistic goods and lifestyle (Scitovisky, 1976; Van Boven and Gilovich, 2003). Materialism is defined as "the importance a consumer attaches to worldly possessions" (Belk, 1984, p. 291). Noting the importance of materialism, Twitchell (1999) maintained, "[o]f the 20th century's various -isms, it has been the one that has ultimately triumphed" (p. 16). Materialism is a complex, multi-faceted phenomenon, extensively studied by scholars from various fields, including advertising, anthropology, consumer behavior and marketing, economics, psychology, political science, and social sciences (Larsen et al., 1999; Manchiraju, 2013; Mannion and Brannick, 1995). Furthermore, substantial consumer behavior and marketing literature (e.g., Belk, 1984; Manchiraju, 2013; Richins and Dawson, 1992) have been dedicated to the concept of materialism, which has been maintained to have implications for advertisers, marketing managers, and public policy makers.

However, the term "materialism" is used very loosely (Richins and Dawson, 1992). Accordingly, materialism has been viewed from socio-cultural as well as individual differences perspectives (Hunt et al., 1996). The former perspective examines cultures in which the majority of the people in the society highly value material objects (Larsen et al., 1999). On the other hand, the latter perspective compares people who differ in their valuations of material objects (Larsen et al., 1999). In other words, individuals who value materialism are especially likely to pursue material possessions and the accumulation of income and wealth (Richins and Dawson, 1992).

Although understanding materialism at a cultural level is important, examining individual differences in materialism can provide important insights into the psychology of materialism (Richins and Dawson, 1992). Critically, various scholars have conceptualized individual differences in materialism in distinct ways (Shrum et al., 2012). Materialism has been conceptualized as an attitude, belief, lifestyle, state (i.e., mood), trait, and value (e.g., Ahuvia, 2008; Belk, 1985; Chang and Arkin, 2002; Richins and Dawson, 1992). In empirical marketing research, several instruments have been developed to measure materialism at the individual level, based on the aforementioned conceptualizations. Of particular interest for the present study are the two dominant perspectives, namely those that refer to materialism as a personality trait or a personal value (for socio-cultural perspective see Ghadrian 2010; Manchiraju, 2013).

Materialism has drawn scholarly attention because it seems to carry negative consequences for individuals. For example, materialism is positively related to various psychological illnesses (e.g., paranoia and depression; Kasser and Ryan, 1993), conflicts between spouses (Paduska, 1992), tendency to engage in shoplifting (Larsen et al., 1999), more laissez-faire attitude towards borrowing (e.g., excessive use of credit cards), and a lower rate of saving money (Watson, 2003). Moreover, Kasser (2002) reported that materialistic adolescents were more likely to engage in negative behaviors, such as alcohol and marijuana abuse. Along this vein, some studies focusing on materialism have found a negative relationship between materialism and happiness (e.g., Wright and Larsen, 1993). For example, Wright and Larsen (1993) conducted a meta-analysis of studies to explore the relationships between materialism and life satisfaction. They found individuals who displayed a materialistic orientation reported a lower level of life satisfaction. Similar findings have been reported by other scholars (for a review see Wright and Larsen, 1993). …

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