Executive summary of “A closer look at the materialism construct: the antecedents and consequences of materialism and its three facets”

Journal of Consumer Marketing

ISSN: 0736-3761

Article publication date: 16 March 2015



(2015), "Executive summary of “A closer look at the materialism construct: the antecedents and consequences of materialism and its three facets”", Journal of Consumer Marketing, Vol. 32 No. 2. https://doi.org/10.1108/JCM-01-2015-1301



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Executive summary of “A closer look at the materialism construct: the antecedents and consequences of materialism and its three facets”

Article Type: Executive summary and implications for managers and executives From: Journal of Consumer Marketing, Volume 32, Issue 2

This summary has been provided to allow managers and executives a rapid appreciation of the content of the article. Those with a particular interest in the topic covered, may then read the article in toto to take advantage of the more comprehensive description of the research undertaken and its results to get the full benefit of the material present.

The prevalence of materialism in Western societies has been subjected to considerable research attention. It has figured prominently during the analysis of recent global economic problems. Critics believe that materialistic values were a significant factor in prompting the financial risk-taking which helped cause the crisis.

An established conceptualization of materialism posits that individuals who demonstrate materialistic tendencies are motivated by its different facets which have been defined as:

  • the centrality of possessions and their acquisition to the materialistic individual’s life. Such possessions are the source of meaning and structure;

  • happiness, where possessions are perceived as being an imperative source of and significantly contribute to contentment with life and well-being; and

  • success: with this facet, material goods have symbolic value because of their capacity to reflect achievement and project a desired image to others.

Regardless of how materialism is construed, its propensity to damage valued life goals like personal growth and developing positive relations with other people is acknowledged.

Various academics contend that unfulfilled needs provide the foundation for materialistic tendencies to flourish. When someone believes that he or she lacks safety, self-worth, competency and a sense of belonging, materialism becomes a “coping mechanism” and a source of gratification. A key factor in this perspective is that materialism exists on a personal level and is not determined by national or cultural characteristics.

Positive outcomes of materialism such as identity formation and the creation of brand communities are noted. But the less endearing aspects of the phenomenon have received significantly more coverage. The negative effect on individual well-being, psychological functioning, life satisfaction and pro-environmental behaviors are most widely cited. How materialism relates to subjective well-being and overall contentment with life has occupied academic thinking the most. Among the reasons proposed for the negativity is the supposed void between actual and desired living standards. The harmful impact on relationships is seen as another reason why satisfaction with life is lower for materialists.

A single construct approach has been the norm for most explorations of materialism. This is despite acceptance of its greater complexity. Certain scholars point out the need for a different approach that scrutinizes the construct’s different facets. The rationale behind this is that the various relationships could be potentially significant in terms of their connection with particular antecedents and consequences of materialism.

The present study proceeds on the basis that the various antecedents of materialism can be categorized as either personality or affect. The constructs are:

  • Depression and anxiety: Findings from several studies indicate that high levels of these negative states are common among individuals who prioritize materialistic values. Psychological well-being suffers when greater importance is placed on attaining material or financial wealth at the expense of intrinsic needs.

  • Self-esteem: A common trait among materialists is low self-worth. Material possessions are consequently seen as a means to address the ensuing insecurity and help them become more socially accepted. But using materialism as a means to boost self-esteem is seen as unfeasible. The inherent void between present and desired states becomes a self-perpetuating “vicious cycle”.

  • Negative affect: Plenty of evidence points to strong links between materialism and “unpleasant emotions”. Nonetheless, people who feel despondent still believe that acquiring material possessions will make them happy. Anxiety about self-presentation and social identity furthers materialism’s tendency to increase negative affect.

In addition, Segev et al. explore the relationship between materialism and various cognitive and behavioral consequences labeled as:

  • Life satisfaction: People search for happiness once their basic needs are fulfilled. This often involves growing personally and developing rewarding relationships. However, satisfaction for materialistic individuals depends on obtaining possessions or money. It is claimed that “continuous dissatisfaction” will be the outcome of such pursuits. Whatever they acquire, materialists will always perceive that someone else is better off than them.

  • Environmentalism: Conflicting interests are purported to exist here. A concern for environmental welfare reflects universal values and a focus on others. In contrast, materialism is centered on prioritizing self-interests. By seeking material possessions, it is likelier that such individuals will engage in activities more prone to damage rather than protect the environment.

  • Shopping time: Studies have revealed that positive correlation exists between materialism and time spent shopping. Materialistic individuals are willing to borrow money and spend it on non-essential items. More frequent shopping activity is also evident among people who express themselves to others through their consumption of brands.

  • Innovativeness: Some analysts believe that a positive consequence of materialism is a consumer’s desire to try out new things. Purchasing such as latest fashions or high-tech goods generates business and benefits companies and wider society. The value placed on possessions by materialists suggests a strong craving to obtain new products and brands to increase their happiness and indicate success.

These issues were explored using a self-administered questionnaire distributed to 569 adults more than 20 years of age within a metropolitan area of southeastern, USA. Males accounted for 39 per cent of the sample and average age of respondents was 31.8 years. Almost three-quarters of participants reported an annual household income comparable to the national average.

Various hypotheses pertaining to relationships between the three facets of materialism and the individual antecedents and consequences were tested. Key indications include the following:

  • Possessions help materialistic individuals cope with negative feelings. Most influential is the happiness aspect of the construct.

  • Happiness was the only dimension positively associated with negative affect.

  • No link is evident between any materialism facet and anxiety. The lack of contextual fit was cited as a possible explanation for a finding which conflicts with earlier work.

  • Happiness is negatively linked with satisfaction with life, although no connection was evident between overall materialism and this outcome.

  • Centrality relates to increased life satisfaction. This unexpected finding might be attributed to materialistic people feeling happy and successful due to their material wealth.

  • A negative connection between materialism and environmentalism.

  • A positive relationship between materialism and time spent shopping, suggesting that acquiring possessions might be fundamental in a materialist’s life.

  • Centrality was linked to consumer innovativeness, although no connection between overall materialism and this outcome was evident.

Given these results, marketers are advised to segment consumers based on which dimension of materialism most influences a specific consumer behavior. Awareness of how a particular facet shapes the behavior is of upmost importance. According to the authors, greater effectiveness of brand communication is achievable when segmentation is more precise. An example would be encouraging consumers to buy new products that can help achieve self-expression goals on the basis that centrality drives consumer innovativeness. On the other hand, Segev et al. note the negative connection between the happiness dimension and life satisfaction. Linking the two in advertisements or other communications is, therefore, not recommended. Scope also exists to market green products as a means of promoting greater environmental concern among materialistic individuals, while simultaneously addressing their consumption needs. Another suggestion is to develop programs which educate people about the negative aspects of excessive consumption.

Future research could use different samples and examine the significance of personal values and religious beliefs. Different consumption behaviors such as impulsive buying and green consumption might be investigated too.

To read the full article enter 10.1108/JCM-07-2014-1082 into your search engine.

(A précis of the article “A closer look at the materialism construct: the antecedents and consequences of materialism and its three facets”. Supplied by Marketing Consultants for Emerald.)

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