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ELSEVIER

Journal of Economic

Psychology 15 (1994) 217-231

JOURNAL

Materialism

and

economic

psychology

Marsha

L. Richins

*7a,Floyd W. Rudmin

b

a School of Business and Public Administration,

linit,ersity of Missouri, Middlebush Hall,

Columbia, MO 6521 I, USA

OF

 

h Faculty of law, Queens UniL:ersity,Kingston,

Ontario, Canada

K7L 3NG

 
 

Received July 26, 1993; accepted

March 28, 1994

Abstract

 
 

This

article

argues

that

materialism

is a variable

relevant

to

many

aspects

of

economic

psychology.

The

definition

and

measurement

of materialism

arc

briefly

reviewed,

followed

by

a discussion

of

the

potential

relationships

between

materialism

and

several

economic

variables,

including

use

of

money,

work

motivation,

giving,

and

material

satisfaction.

The

paper

concludes

with

a discussion

of

the

use

of

economic

goods

in

social

communication

and

the

potential

role

of materialism

in such

communication.

 
role of materialism in such communication.   1. Introduction Although materialism has long been a topic

1. Introduction

Although

materialism

has long been

a topic

of social and philosophical

concern, only recently has it become a topic within economic psychology. This is probably because the traditional discourse on materialism has been too broad, too normative, and too philosophical to allow empirical hypoth-

esis testing, particularly at the psychological level. However, economic psychology often involves examining the effects of individual difference variables on economic behavior, and materialism should not be overlooked

economic behavior, and materialism should not be overlooked * Corresponding author. Tel.: (314) 882-0280, Fax: (314)

* Corresponding

author. Tel.: (314) 882-0280, Fax: (314) 882-0365, E-mail: marketmr@mizzoul.mis-

souri.edu

0167-4870/94/$07.00

0

1994 Elsevier

Science B.V. All rights reserved

&SD1 0167-4870(94)00012-Y

218 M.L.

Richins. F. W Rudmin /Journal

of Erorlomic

Psychology 15 (1994)

217-231

 

as

a variable

of

importance.

Materialism,

perhaps

more

than

any

other

variable,

describes

an

individual’s

 

real

and

desired

relationship

with

eco-

nomic

goods.

It

is

closely

tied

to

the

satisfactions

 

one

derives

from

the

acquisition

and

possession

of goods

and

is related

to

the

intensity

and

the

manner

by which

one

pursues

economic

objectives.

In addition,

more

than

other

values

or

personality

traits,

materialism

is uniquely

identified

 

with

consumption.

Thus,

it is a phenomenon

worthy

of investigation

for

its own

sake.

The

objective

of

this

article

is

to

increase

scholars’

recognition

of

the

relevance

of

materialism

to

the

study

of

economic

psychology.

It

reviews

 

the

construct

of materialism

and

identifies

selected

writings

concerning

the

construct.

In the

course

of review,

numerous

links

between

materialism

and

economic

psychology

are

described

or

hypothesized.

 

1.1. Defining materialism

 

The

terms

‘materialism’

and

‘materialistic’

are

often

used

without

defini-

 

tion.

In

philosophical

usage,

materialism

originally

referred

to

the

notion

that

nothing

exists

except

matter

and

its

movements

(see,

for

instance,

Lange,

1865/1925).

In

popular

usage,

materialism

more

often

refers

to

a

‘devotion

to material

needs

 

and

desires,

to

the

neglect

of spiritual

 

matters;

a way

of

life,

opinion,

or

tendency

based

entirely

upon

material

interests’

(Oxford

English

Dictionary,

1989,

Vol.

9,

p.

466).

Belk

(1985,

p.

2651

defines

materialism

as

‘the

importance

a

consumer

attaches

 

to

worldly

 

possessions,

while

Bredemeier

and

Toby

(1960,

p.

77)

refer

to

it

as

‘the

worship

of

things’.

When

large

segments

of

a

society

avidly

desire

to

consume

goods

for

reasons

that

economists

have

traditionally

defined

as

nonutilitarian

(e.g.,

status

seeking,

novelty),

a ‘consumer

culture’

is said

to

exist

(Belk,

1988;

Fox

and

Lears,

1983).

Although

the

philosophical

usage

of

the

term

‘materialism’

is generally

considered

to

be

distinct

from

the

popular

usage,

materialistic

consumers

do

rely

on

physical

(material)

pos-

sessions

to

manifest

and

perceive

otherwise

invisible

personal

characteris-

tics

such

as

happiness,

status,

and

social

competence.

This

reliance

on

material

objects

for

meaning

is reminiscent

of the

philosophical

use

of the

term.

A review

of theoretical

and

lay conceptions

of materialism

suggests

that

materialism

involves

at

least

three

important

elements

(Fournier

and

Richins,

1991;

Richins

and

Dawson,

1992).

First,

materialists

place

posses-

M. L. Rich&,

F. UCRudmin /Journal

of Economic

Psychology 1.5 (IY94,i 217-231

219

sions and their acquisition at the center of their lives. Daun (1983) describes materialism as a way of life in which a high level of material consumption functions as a goal and serves as a set of plans. Csikszentmi- halyi and Rochberg-Halton (1981, p. 231) note the dominance materialism can achieve in one’s life, suggesting that for some materialists, ‘consump- tion for the sake of consumption becomes a fever that consumes all the potential energy it can get access to’. (Csikszentmihalyi and Rochberg-Hal- ton also describe in detail the positive roles that possessions play in

individuals’ lives, such as providing meaning and enabling a fuller unfolding of human life. They refer to such uses of possessions as an instrumental

form of materialism. However, since this use of the term

not consistent with more common usage both in popular and theoretical

‘materialism’ is

writings, it is not employed here.) Second, possessions and acquisition are viewed by materialists as essen- tial to their satisfaction and well-being in life. Belk (1985, p. 265) notes that

for materialistic individuals ‘possessions

greatest sources of satisfaction and dissatisfaction’ in life. According to

Looft (19711, materialists believe that expanded levels of consumption lead to increases in the amount of pleasure obtained. While most individuals

care deeply about their own happiness,

happiness through acquisition or possession rather than through other means that distinguishes materialism,

to

of

are believed to provide the

it

is the

single-minded

pursuit

The third element

of materialism

involves the tendency

of materialists

judge

their

own and others’

success

by the

number

and quality of posses-

sions accumulated. The value of possessions stems partly from their ability

to confer status (Mason, 1981; Veblen, 1899/1953) and also from their

ability to project a desired self-image and identify one as a participant in an imagined perfect life (Campbell, 1987). Materialists view themselves and

others as successful to the these desired images. The

others and projecting images of the self is addressed later in this article.

extent they can possess products that project

use

of possessions

in forming

impressions

of

1.2. Measuring materialism

Empirical

research

on materialism

was rare

and

sporadic

until

the

mid

1980’s. In part

this reflected

a lack, until recently,

of appropriate

measures

of the construct.

to think

the goal and context

For purposes

of economics-oriented

research,

of materialism

measurement

from two perspectives,

it is useful

depending on

of the research.

220 M.L.

Richins, F. W. Rudmin /Journal

of Economic

Psychology 15 (1994)

217-231

 

Individual

level analysis

 

Many

studies

have

attempted

to

examine

materialism

as

an

individual

difference

variable.

One

might,

for

instance,

examine

the

relationship

 

between

individuals’

level

of

materialism

and

their

spending

habits,

work

motivation,

and

the

like.

Several

different

measures

have

been

used

in

individual

analysis

(see

Richins

and

Dawson,

1992,

for

a review),

but

only

two

are

based

on

psychometric

principles.

Belk

(19851 developed

measures

of

envy,

possessiveness,

 

and

nongenerosity

-

three

traits

associated

with

materialism.

Several

researchers

have

used

the

summation

of

these

three

scales

as

a

measure

of

materialism

(e.g.,

Belk,

1985;

Hunt

et

al.,

1990;

Rudmin,

19881. Richins

and

Dawson

(1990,

19921 use

a different

approach.

Rather

than

using

personality

traits

to

infer

level

of

materialism,

they

assess

materialism

more

directly

by measuring

the

three

characteristics

of

materialism

described

above:

acquisition

centrality,

acquisition

as the

pur-

suit

of happiness,

and

possession-defined

 

success.

 

Cultural analysis

A second

research

perspective

attempts

to assess

the

level

of materialism

within

a

culture

for

purposes

of

comparing

different

cultures

or

tracing

materialism

levels

over

time.

Two

separate

approaches

have

been

used.

In

a very

extensive

series

of studies,

Inglehart

(e.g.,

1977,

1990)

has

attempted

to identify

post-materialistic

societies,

in which

individuals

emphasize

such

values

as belonging

and

self-expression

instead

of material

possessions.

In

his

surveys,

administered

primarily

in Europe,

he

lists

12 goals

and

classi-

fies

respondents

as possessing

materialist

or

post-materialist

values

by the

social

goals

they

choose

as

most

important.

The

second

approach

 

to

measuring

materialism

at

a cultural

level

is content

analysis.

For

example,

Belk

and

Pollay

(198.5)

used

content

analysis

to

examine

materialistic

 

themes

in print

advertising

in

the

U.S.

between

1900

and

1980.

Tse

et

al.

(19891

used

content

analysis

to

compare

consumption

values

in

advertise-

ments

in Hong

Kong,

the

People’s

Republic

of China,

and

Taiwan.

 

1.3.

The effects of materialism

Materialism

has

had

both

positive

and

negative

impacts

on

cultures,

economies,

 

and

individuals.

The

industrial

revolution

and

the

success

of

capitalistic

modes

of production

is said

to

be

due

in part

to

the

Protestant

work

ethic

and

the

purposeful

 

pursuit

of

wealth

with

which

it eventually

came

to

be

associated

(Weber,

1904-05/1958).

Although

some

have

sug-

ML Rich&s, F. W Rudmin /Journal

of Economic

Psychology 15 (1994)

21 T-231

221

gested that the traditional work ethic has eroded in recent decades among some segments of the population (Albee, 1977; Howard and Wilson, 1982;

see, however, Furnham, 1990, Ch. 71, materialism can still be

positive impact on economies. The desire for goods on the part of (materialistic) workers may cause them to work harder or longer, enhanc- ing their incomes and standard of living (Cherrington, 1980; Schor, 1991). High levels of consumption by (materialistic) consumers can increase the wealth of business institutions, increasing their ability to make capital improvements and invest in research and development, which in turn leads to greater productivity, technological breakthroughs, and again, higher living standards. There are negative consequences of materialism as well. For centuries, religious leaders have warned of the spiritual hazards of materialism (see Belk, 1983; Rudmin and Kilbourne, in press), and others have described the harm to interpersonal relationships it may cause (e.g., Fromm, 1976). More recently, materialism has been criticized for its negative impact on the earth’s resources. Unbridled materialism uses natural resources at an

unnecessarily high rate and contributes to pollution and the destruction of habitat and species (Durning, 1991; Hirsch, 1978; Meadows et al., 1972; Worster, 1993). Concerns have also been raised about the interaction between material- ism and social systems. In the U.S. and Western Europe, there is growing recognition that economic resources are more strained than previously

thought. Lower rates of job growth have combined with

mands on those resources due to political reorganization, demographic changes, rising health costs, and increased social welfare demands. The result is that many societies are no longer economically capable of sustain- ing a materialistic ideal. Standards of living are not likely to rise as they have in the past; for many, they have declined. It has been suggested that the inability of individuals to achieve their materialistic ideal contributes (in part) to disturbances in social systems. These disturbances may include excessive personal debt and increasing personal bankruptcy rates, dissatis- faction and resentment among ordinary citizens, increases in property crimes, and intolerance of immigrants and other out-group members. Materialism and consumer culture are not limited to the developed economies of Western Europe and North America but have been docu- mented in a variety of Third World countries (Blair, 3965; Lewis, 1973; Yellen, 1985). Belk (1988) describes some of the negative consequences of the increasing materialism and desire for Western goods in these cultures.

a

said to have

increasing de-

222 M.L.

Richins,

F. W. Rudmin

/Journal

of Economic

Psychology

15 (1994)

217-231

These

consequences

include

the

devaluation

of

locally

produced

goods

(upon

whose

production

local

economies

may

depend)

and

a reduction

in

the

consumption

of

necessities

so

that

luxuries

and

status

goods

may

be

obtained.

 

2. Materialism

and

economic

variables

 

As the

preceding

discussion

indicates,

there

are

important

links

between

materialism

and

economic

behavior.

The

following

discussion

examines

in

more

detail

the

specific

economic

variables

that

may be related

to material-

ism.

Relevant

research

is cited,

and

suggestions

 

are

made

concerning

how

materialism

may

be incorporated

in future

research

on the

topics

described

below.

 

2.1. Money

 
 

Although

materialists

 

are

believed

to value

possessions

for

a variety

of

reasons,

money

is the

currency

which

enables

one

to acquire.

Thus,

one

can

expect

materialistic

people

to

have

a

different

relationship

with

money

from

those

who

are

low in materialism.

One

way they

are

expected

to differ

is

in

the

amount

of

money

they

need

or

desire.

Wachtel

and

Blatt

(19901,

studying

college

students,

found

only

weak

relationships

between

desired

income

and

traits

associated

with

materialism.

Richins

and

Dawson

(19921,

however,

measured

material

values

in

a

broader

cross-section

of

the

population

and

found

a strong

relationship

 

between

materialism

and

de-

sired

income:

the

income

deemed

necessary

to

satisfy

needs

was

about

50

percent

higher

for

consumers

high

in

materialism

than

for

those

low

in

materialism.

 
 

Low

and

high

materialists

are

also

likely

to differ

in the

meaning

money

holds

for

them

and

in

money-related

attitudes.

While

the

relationship

between

materialism

and

these

variables

has

apparently

not

been

investi-

gated,

the

logical

relationship

between

materialism

and

money

attitudes,

and

the

existence

of

a

variety

of

appropriate

measures

(e.g.,

Furnham,

1984;

Wernimont

and

Fitzpatrick,

1972;

Yamauchi

and

Templer,

19821,

suggest

this

would

to

be

a fruitful

area

of inquiry.

Spending

 

Because

acquisition

 

is important

to

materialists,

and

materialists

more

than

others

view

their

possessions

 

as indicators

of their

own

success

in life,

ML.

Richins, F. W Rudrnin /.Journal

of EcunomicPsychology I5 (19943 217-231

223

they are likely to spend their money in different ways than those low in materialism. Two studies have examined materialism and expenditures, although the expenditures have been hypothetical. Belk (1985) found that high materialism respondents are more likely than low materialism respon- dents to report they would buy luxuries if they were unexpectedly given $100. Richins and Dawson (1992) allowed their respondents a hypothetical windfall of $lO,~OOand examined planned expenditures in six categories. High and low materialism respondents differed in four of the six types of expenditures, with high materialism respondents spending as much as three times more than low materialism respondents in some cases. Studies of actual expenditure patterns (e.g., Lunt and Livingstone, 1992) would more clearly show the influence of materialistic values on spending practices. A related research topic concerns compulsive shopping. O’Guinn and Faber (1989) found relationships between compulsive, opt-of-control shop- ping and personality traits such as envy (which has been linked to material- ism), while Hanley and Wilhelm (1992) studied compulsive buying and money attitudes. This is a promising area for inquiry. While critics have blamed ‘rampant materialism’ for excessive debt and bankruptcy, empirical studies testing this thesis have not yet been conducted.

Sauing and debt

Consumer

saving and consumer

debt

are variables

of considerable

inter-

est in economic theory, and psychological variables are an important (although under-researched) element in determining them (Katona, 1975; Lea et al., 1993; Lunt and Livingstone, 1991; Wsrneryd, 1989). Since materialism represents the centrality of possession and acquisition in consumers’ lives, and since acquisition most often involves spending (which is in direct opposition to saving), research and theoretical models concern- ing savings and debt might profitably include materialism as a variable.

and debt might profitably include materialism as a variable. The desire to obtain (more> goods is

The

desire

to obtain

(more> goods

is widely

credited

as an important

2.2. Work motivation

and behavior

motivation

for work.

Materialists

have

a stronger

desire

than

others

for

goods,

and

thus can be expected

to work more

or strive for higher

paying

jobs.

Schor

(1991)

has

analyzed

work

and

leisure

hours

in

the

United

States,

a country

often

described

as particularly

materialistic.

She found

that

income

in the last two decades

groups

the work time of Americans

increased,

despite

of all gender

gains

has substantially

productivity

and

that

224 M.L. Richins, F. W. Rudmin /Journal

of Economic

Psychology 15 (1994)

217-231

have

allowed

the

United

States

to

achieve

one

of

the

highest

material

standards

of

living

in

the

world.

This

increase

in

work

stands

in

sharp

contrast

to

European

economies

in

which

work

hours

have

declined.

In

Schor’s

analysis,

an

important

 

cause

of

increasing

work

and

declining

leisure

among

Americans

is their

materialistic

values.

 

Given

the

presumed

role

of

materialism

in

work

motivation,

research

documenting

and

elaborating

this

relationships

is warranted.

For instance,

there

appears

to

be

some

tension

in the

relationship

between

materialism

and

work.

The

traditional

(Protestant)

work

ethic

values

work

for

its own

sake

and

for

its social

contributions

(see

Furnham,

1990, for

a comprehen-

 

sive review),

while

the

materialist

is more

instrumental

in his/her

approach

to

work,

valuing

work

primarily

for

the

buying

power

it

provides.

It

is

possible

that

this

instrumental

orientation

a denigration

 

of

work

itself.

Some

evidence

of this

is provided

involves in a study

by Belk

(1989).

He

asked

college

students

to report

their

liking

of comic

book

characters

with

which

they

were

familiar.

Using

content

analysis

procedures,

some

of the

charac-

ters

were

classified

as consumption

heroes

(hard

working,

intelligent,

and

unselfish)

and

some

as

consumption

villains

(greedy

spendthrifts

 

who

obtain

wealth

through

luck,

crime,

or magic

instead

of hard

work).

Materi-

alistic

students

tended

to

like

the

consumption

villains

(and

dislike

the

more

traditional

consumption

heroes),

while

the

opposite

was

true

 

for

students

low in materialism.

This

finding

suggests

that

materialism

is linked

with

work

attitudes;

it may

be

a useful

variable

in modeling

the

relationship

between

work

attitudes

and

various

work

behaviors.

 

2.3. Giving

 

The

humane

operation

of

societies

and

economies

requires

sharing

or

other

methods

to

redistribute

wealth.

Two

forms

of this

behavior

relevant

to economists

are

tax contributions

and

charitable

contributions.

While

the

research

on

the

topic

can

be

described

as

preliminary

at

best,

it appears

that

those

high

in

materialism

are

less

willing

than

their

counterparts

to

give

to

others.

Studies

suggest

that

materialists

are

less

willing

than

non-materialists

to

make

organ

donations

(Belk

and

Austin,

19861,

less

likely

to share

a cash

windfall

with

others

(Belk,

1985; Richins

and

Dawson,

19921, and

less

likely

to

make

charitable

contributions

(Richins

and

Daw-

son,

1992).

Although

tax contributions

are

generally

considered

non-voluntary,

there

M.L. Richins, F. W. Rudmin /Journal

of Economic

Psychology 15 (1994)

217-231

225

are at least two respects in which individuals have some degree of choice concerning the taxes they pay. In some economies, tax evasion and tax avoidance are practiced by significant segments of society, and personal values such as materialism and greed are likely to play some role in this behavior. Second, in many political units, citizens have the opportunity to vote on specific taxes directly affecting the social welfare of the locality. These taxes may be used to improve a variety of public services such as roads, schools, and sewage treatment facilities or to provide aid to disad- vantaged members of the community. Research could assess whether the self-interest of materialistic individuals makes them likely to favor only those tax levies of direct personal benefit.

2.4. Material satisfaction and quality of life

The important goals of spending and consumption, from an economic perspective, are utility, satisfaction, and improved quality of life. Through- out the world, economic advancement is valued for its ability to improve the quality of life. Some evidence suggests, however, that increased eco- nomic well-being does not do a great deal to improve the happiness or life satisfaction of a society at large (Diener, 1984; Easterlin, 1974; Inglehart and Rabier, 1986; see, however, Lane, 1991, for a contrary view). For individuals within a society, the expectation that owning more possessions or achieving an increased standard of living will make one happier appears to be unfounded. Several authors have noted that while acquisitions or an increased income do enhance individuals’ satisfaction temporarily, the pleasure from these improvements quickly wanes and one’s satisfaction (or dissatisfaction) reverts to its previous level (Brickman and Campbell, 1971; Inglehart and Rabier, 1986; Scitovsky, 1976; see also Lane, 1991, Ch. 26). Materialistic individuals, who place possessions near the center of their lives and who believe their happiness to depend on possession and acquisition, tend to have lower levels of satisfaction with their lives overall and especially with their standard of living (Belk, 1985; Dawson and Bamossy, 1990; Richins, 1987; Richins and Dawson, 1992); they also tend to have poorer social adjustment and mental health (Kasser and Ryan, 1993). These considerations need to be brought to bear in research assessing economic development in Third World countries or when studying the effects of changing economic structures in Eastern Europe and elsewhere.

226 M.L. Richins, F. W. Rudmin /Journal

of Economic

Psychology 15 (1994)

217-231

 

3. Social

communication

and

economic

goods

Economic

analysis

often

examines

consumption

from

utilitarian,

rational,

and

functional

points

of

view.

One

contribution

of

psychology

and

the

other

social

sciences

is

the

recognition

that

consumption

serves

other

purposes

as well.

Douglas

and

Isherwood

(1979)

have

persuasively

argued

for

recognition

of the

broader

goals

and

meanings

of consumption,

includ-

ing the

roles

of possessions

in defining

one’s

identity

and

in social

commu-

nication.

It

is primarily

the

socially

constructed

meanings

of

these

posses-

sions,

rather

than

their

‘objective’

characteristics,

that

allow

goods

to

function

in

these

ways.

Although

the

two

roles

of

identity

formation

and

social

communication

are

intertwined

(Cooley,

1902;

Mead,

19341,

for

clarity

they

are

discussed

separately

below.

3.1. Identity

 

It

is

well

recognized

that

one’s

sense

of

self

stems

in

part

from

the

possessions

one

owns

(Braun

and

Wicklund,

1989;

James,

1890;

Mc-

Cracken,

1986; Simmel,

1900/1978).

Although

not

tested

empirically,

it has

been

selves

suggested

through

that

materialists

are

(Wright

1988).

et

the

examined

(e.g.,

Dittmar,

An

more

likely

1992).

than

others

to define

of

possessions

Richins,

evidence

their

as

possessions

have

al.,

symbolic

1992;

emerging

Several

relate

studies

to

meanings

they

Wallendorf

identity

Furby,

body

1978;

of

1994b;

suggests

and

Arnould,

that

possessions

have

different

meanings

for

those

low

and

high in materi-

alism

and

that

these

individuals

use

possessions

in different

ways. Richins

(1994a),

for

instance,

found

that

materialists

are

more

likely

to

value

possessions

for

their

status,

appearance-related,

and utilitarian meanings

while

those

low

in

materialism

are

more

likely

to

derive

value

from

a

possession’s

symbolic

ties

with

other

individuals

(e.g.,

gifts)

or its potential

for

hedonic

satisfaction.

 

Collections

are

organized

groups

of possessions.

Among

other

functions,

collections

may

be

used

by

individuals

to

create

or

improve

self-identity

(Beaglehole,

1932;

Moulin,

1987;

Rigby

and

Rigby,

1944).

Collections

have

been

viewed

by

some

scholars

as

a means

of

legitimizing

acquisitiveness

(e.g.,

Clifford,

1985);

thus,

materialism

may

be

associated

both

with

the

intensity

of

the

collecting

motive

and

with

the

types

(and

meanings)

of

objects

collected.

 

ML.

Richins, F. W. Rudmin /Journal

of Economic Psychology IS (1994) 217-231

227

Rudmin /Journal of Economic Psychology IS (1994) 217-231 227 3.2. Social co~~u~~catio~ An obvious example of

3.2.

Social co~~u~~catio~

An obvious example of the use of economic

goods for social communica-

tion purposes is the exchange of gifts (Caplow, 1982; Cheal, 1988; Davis,

the

1972;

Sherry,

1983).

Gifts

have

a

number

of

functions,

including

expression of feelings for the recipient and the strengthening of social ties.

Another use of gifts, in some cases, is to communicate aspects of the self (both real and ideal) to others (Neisser, 19731. Materialistic individuals

place

possessions

at the

center

of their

lives, and

they

use possessions

to

judge

their own success. To the extent they desire to communicate their

(actual or desired) status or success to others, materialists would be motivated to give gifts whose meanings are consistent with this status. In many cases the desired status communication might require the giving of costly items, leading to the hypothesis that materialistic individuals would give more expensive gifts, as an expression of their materialistic values, than would those low in materialism. However, as noted earlier, materiaI-

ists seem unwilling to share their economic resources with others, leading to the contrary conclusion that the gifts of materialistic individuals would be more niggardly than the gifts given by others. Although gift-giving has been linked empirically to some consumer values (Beatty et al., 19911, the relationship between materialism and gift-giving has not yet been systemat- ically examined.

is not

limited to gift giving. People actively use a wide variety of socially-visible

economic goods to signal characteristics of their selves to others (Goffman,

are

two obvious examples of goods that are used in this way. Simultaneously, observers decode the information contained in these objects to make inferences, or social judgments, about the owner’s personal characteristics (Dittmar, 1992; Holman, 1981). There is tentative evidence that the materi- alism level of both owners and observers are implicated in these processes. For instance, Richins (1994a) demonstrated that observers sometimes can infer the materialism level of an individual from the kinds of possessions that individual values. In addition, Dittmar and Pepper (1994) found that

1967; Mason,

The

use

of goods

and

to communicate

aspects

of the

self to others

and

1959; Grubb

Grathwohl,

1981). Clothing

cars

observers’ level of materialism has at least some bearing on the outcomes of this evaluation process, The effects of materialism on social judgments is a potentially fruitful area of inquiry.

Of the many ways in which

materialism

may influence

economic

behav-

ior, only a few have been addressed here. However, it is hoped that this

228 M.L. Richins, F. W. Rudmin /Journal

of Economic

Psychology 15 (1994)

217-231

article successfully demonstrates

important to economic psychology and that researchers

more apt to consider its influence on the variables they study.

some

of the

ways

in which

in the

materialism

future

is

will be

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