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Compulsive buying - a growing concern? An examination of gender, age, and endorsement of materialistic values as predictors

journal contribution
posted on 2023-06-07, 18:38 authored by Helga Dittmar
Compulsive buying is an understudied, but growing, dysfunctional consumer behaviour with harmful psychological and financial consequences. Clinical perspectives treat it as a psychiatric disorder, whereas recent proposals emphasize the increasing endorsement of materialistic values as a cause of uncontrolled buying (e.g. Dittmar, 2004b; Kasser & Kanner, 2004). The present research aims to improve understanding of compulsive buying through examining gender, age, and endorsement of materialistic values as key predictors in three UK questionnaire studies, which sampled individuals who had contacted a self-help organization and residentially matched 'controls' (N=330), consumer panelists from a multinational corporation (N=250), and 16- to 18-year-old adolescents (N=195). The results confirmed previously documented gender differences, and showed that younger people are more prone to compulsive buying. The central findings were that materialistic value endorsement emerged as the strongest predictor of individuals' compulsive buying, and that it significantly mediated the observed age differences. A growing number of people engage in uncontrolled, excessive buying of consumer goods that can lead to psychological distress and serious effects on individuals' lives, such as substantial debt (e.g. Benson, 2000; Dittmar, 2004b). Such dysfunctional behaviour, termed compulsive buying in the clinical literature, has started to attract research attention (cf. Black, 2004; Dittmar, 2004a; Faber, 2004), and prevalence estimates range from 1% to 10% of adults in Western developed economies, including the UK and US. Moreover, a recent study confirmed empirically that compulsive buying is on the increase (Neuner, Raab, & Reisch, 2005). Yet, despite posing a substantial problem, its underlying causes are still poorly understood. To date, clinical models are the main approach, which view compulsive buying as a manifestation of underlying psychiatric disorders, but without agreement on the type of disorder (e.g. Black, 2004). Recent proposals, which draw on social psychology, conceptualize compulsive buying as compensatory behaviour, where individuals attempt to deal with identity and mood problems through buying material goods (Dittmar, 2004b; Elliott, 1994). This perspective is consistent with an emphasis on materialistic values, 'the importance ascribed to the ownership and acquisition of material goods in achieving major life goals' (Richins, 2004, p. 210) such as happiness, satisfaction and success. Endorsement of materialistic values has been linked to lower well-being (e.g. Kasser & Ahuvia, 2002; Kasser & Ryan, 1993). In order to improve our limited understanding, the present research therefore examines materialistic value endorsement as a factor that may make individuals more vulnerable to compulsive buying. Age is also assessed, given indications that compulsive buying is negatively correlated with age (e.g. D'Astous, 1990; Magee, 1994) and findings that younger people tend to be more materialistic (cf. Myers, 2000). Finally, gender is examined, given the disproportionate prevalence of compulsive buying among women (see reviews by Black, 2004; Faber, 2004).


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British Journal of Psychology




British Psychological Society





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  • Psychology Publications

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