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Balancing self/collective-interest: equity theory for prosocial consumption

Spencer M. Ross (Department of Marketing, Entrepreneurship, and Innovation, Manning School of Business, University of Massachusetts Lowell, Lowell, Massachusetts, USA)
Sommer Kapitan (Department of Marketing, Advertising, Retailing and Sales, Auckland University of Technology, Auckland, New Zealand)

European Journal of Marketing

ISSN: 0309-0566

Article publication date: 1 February 2018

Issue publication date: 29 March 2018




This work aims to use equity theory to explore how consumers assess prosocial actions as part of a mental portfolio of purchases and behaviors in a broader marketplace, seeking balance in market exchanges. Conceptualizing marketing exchange as both an exchange of perceived value and a balance between self- and collective-interest allows for segmentation by consumer sensitivity to equity and sheds light on why prosocial consumption might occur.


Two studies validate and segment consumers via their equity sensitivity. Between-subject designs with samples of consumers and marketing managers validate an equity sensitivity index that segments how people balance self- and collective-interests in marketplace exchange and predicts prosocial consumption choices.


The results indicate that Entitled decision makers are more willing to exchange collective-interest for self-interest and emphasize choices that maximize lower prices for consumers or greater profits for firms in lieu of prosocial outcomes. Benevolent decision makers, however, are more willing to exchange self-interest for collective-interest and support prosocial outcomes.


This work moves beyond research that focuses on attitudes, values and situational factors, instead using equity theory to uncover broader marketplace motivations for prosocial consumption. The research reveals that a motivating force behind prosocial consumption is how much consumers perceive they have given to, and gotten, from, the marketplace. Segmenting the market according to how consumers balance gains and losses provides an alternate approach to studying prosocial consumption, as well as a practical approach to developing targeted marketing strategies.



This paper forms part of a special section papers from in Search of Sustainable and Responsible Consumption.

This research is based on the first author’s doctoral dissertation and he thanks George Milne, Liz Miller, Easwar Iyer, and Lisa Keller, as well as an anonymous reviewer, for their comments on early versions of the manuscript.


M. Ross, S. and Kapitan, S. (2018), "Balancing self/collective-interest: equity theory for prosocial consumption", European Journal of Marketing, Vol. 52 No. 3/4, pp. 528-549.



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