Getting Ahead of the Joneses: When Equality Increases Conspicuous Consumption Among Bottom-Tier Consumers
47 Pages Posted: 3 Nov 2010
Date Written: November 3, 2010
One of the main justifications for increasing equality of distribution of material possessions or income in a social group is that it would lead people at the bottom of the distribution to save more and consume less. However, this prediction and its causal mechanisms have never been studied experimentally. Five studies show that greater equality increases the satisfaction of those in the lowest tier of the distribution with their current level of endowment because it reduces the possession gap between what they have and what others have. However, greater equality also increases the position gains derived from status-enhancing consumption, since it allows low-tier consumers to get ahead of the higher proportion of consumers now clustered in the middle tiers. As a result, greater equality reduces consumption when consumers focus on the narrower possession gap, but increases consumption when they focus on the greater rank or position gains to be obtained (that is, when consumption is conspicuous, social competition goals are primed, and the environment is competitive).
Keywords: Status, Conspicuous Consumption, Equality, Social Comparison, Symbolic Products
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