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Understanding ethical consumers: willingness-to-pay by moral cause

Kendall Cox Park (Department of Sociology, Princeton University, Princeton, New Jersey, USA)

Journal of Consumer Marketing

ISSN: 0736-3761

Article publication date: 19 March 2018




Moral issues such as environmental degradation and workers’ rights are no longer relegated to the political realm; today, they permeate the marketing of consumer products. Some consumer studies focus on organics, others on green goods and still others on fair trade products, but none include the full range of ethical consumption. This study, aims to investigate consumer willingness to pay for five distinct ethical narratives.


Using original data from a national sample, this paper parses out five types of ethical narratives: fair trade, sustainable/green, American-made and two types of charitable partnerships. Using random assignment and an experimental design allows in isolating the effects of gender, age, education, income, political orientation and political involvement on how much consumers are willing to pay for each type of ethical product.


This survey experiment demonstrates that the fair trade narrative is the most valuable to consumers, followed by the charitable narratives. The two charitable narratives are universally appealing, whereas fair trade, green and American-made products appeal to three distinct groups of consumers. This paper demonstrates that there is not one sort of ethical shopper, but many.


This study examines what sorts of stories appeal to particular demographics. It will help socially and environmentally responsible companies better understand their target demographic and how to motivate their target audience.


Previous research yields conflicting findings about who values ethical products because each study focuses on a different form of ethical consumption. This study uses original data to investigate consumers’ valuations of five different types of ethical narratives. The results help in making sense of divergent findings in the literature and expand understanding of socially conscious shoppers.



Park, K.C. (2018), "Understanding ethical consumers: willingness-to-pay by moral cause", Journal of Consumer Marketing, Vol. 35 No. 2, pp. 157-168.



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