Research on Materialism and Well-Being

Tim Kasser, Ph.D., Knox College

Modern advertising attempts to convince people that the pursuit of wealth, possessions, and image will make them happy. As such, it has the goal of increasing the value people place on materialistic aims.

Yet empirical research consistently documents that people who believe materialistic values are relatively important also have a lower quality of life. Studies show people with strong materialistic values report:

1. Lower Personal Well-being:

- less happiness
- less satisfaction with life
- less vitality
- lower general functioning
- more depression
- more anxiety
- more physical problems
- more drug use

These results have been demonstrated in teenagers, college students and adults, and in the U.S., England, South Korea, Singapore, Russia, Germany, and India.

2. Poorer relationships

- less empathy
- less trust
- more conflict
- more manipulation

People with strong materialistic values also:

3. Contribute less to the community

- less desire to help others
- less cooperation
- more antisocial
- more competition

Conclusion: Advertising to children spreads materialistic values, which undermine well-being

Three of many possible citations:

Cohen, P., & Cohen, J. (1996). Life Values and Adolescent Mental Health. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum.

Kasser, T., & Ryan, R. M. (1993). "A Dark Side of the American Dream: Correlates of financial success as a central life aspiration." Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 65, 410-422.

Richins, M. L., & Dawson, S. (1992). "A Consumer Values Orientation for Materialism and Its Measurement: Scale development and validation." Journal of Consumer Research, 19, 303-316.