Materialism is not necessarily bad, and it can actually do good in societies that put the community first, according to new research by the Vienna University of Economics and Business (WU). The research was published in the Journal of International Business Studies.
The study, conducted by Professor Bodo Schlegelmilch, compared consumers’ values in the US to consumers in China, India, and Thailand. In Asia, rapid economic growth and increasing prosperity among the middle classes have led to a surge in consumption – this is often seen as a move towards materialism and individualism.
They found that materialists living in individualistic societies make expensive purchases expected from a self-serving brand of materialism that some people frown upon.
Whereas materialists from collectivist societies, often in Asian countries, who also make pricey purchases, do so to strengthen their reputation as socially responsible members of society.
‘A self-serving materialist in individually orientated countries may opt for a flashy sports car, but a materialist from a collectivistic society might opt for a high-end and eco-friendly car, which they can enjoy together with friends and family,’ says Professor Schlegelmilch.
The researchers believe these insights into the brighter side of materialism are valuable to international businesses and organisations looking to engage consumers in pro-social spending, whether buying socially responsible goods and services or donating to charities.