The Economics of Consumption

By Charles S. Wyand | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 17
STANDARDS OF LIVING

If the level of living describes man's economic mode of life, the standard of living embraces those utilities a family feels it must have to maintain personal and social well-being. As such the standard of living "consists of the satisfactions considered essential by an individual or group."1Kyrk not inaccurately calls it "a subjective view of objective facts"2 for it primarily comprises "a set of attitudes toward certain values, goods, and services."3 It is therefore more than a configuration of goods which men think they would like to have. It is a point of view, a conviction. It embraces utilities that individuals feel they ought to possess in terms of their social and economic status. The standard is therefore a more or less stereotyped pattern within each of the various economic classes of society and reflects the aspirations, traditions, and attitudes of respective groups.4 And it is thus composed of the goods which have become habitual items of consumption for typical members of an economic class or group. These goods are intensely desired and are relinquished when necessary only with the greatest reluctance.

Many economists are of the opinion however that "the standard of living is much more than mere habit of consumption."5 For these writers, standards include only those goods and services which men prefer to "the satisfactions of domesticity." In other words they consist of objects which the individual insists upon having before consenting to marriage and the rearing of children.6

____________________
1
Hoyt Elizabeth, The Consumption of Wealth, p. 242. Douglas P. H. ( The Worker in Modern Economic Society, p. 272) calls it the sum of accustomed goods and services considered absolutely essential to the maintenance of a specific group of people.
2
Kyrk H., A Theory of Consumption, p. 175. See this very excellent discussion of living standards, esp. chs. 8-11, inclusive.
3
Eliot T. D., American Standards and Planes of Living, p. 3.
4
Conscious emphasis is usually placed upon the comforts and luxuries of a given standard. The importance of necessities is assumed but they are nonetheless recognized to be an integral part of the standard. Emphasis on prestige values is in large part a product of the expanding significance of the social environment.
5
Carver T. N., Textile Problems for the Consumer, p. 43. See also Ely R. T., Outlines of Economics, 4th ed., p. 378.
6
A close relationship does in fact exist between standards of living and the quantitative nature of the population.

-469-

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