Journal of Business Ethics

, Volume 152, Issue 1, pp 103–122 | Cite as

Coping with Loneliness Through Materialism: Strategies Matter for Adolescent Development of Unethical Behaviors

  • Elodie GentinaEmail author
  • L. J. Shrum
  • Tina M. Lowrey


Engaging in unethical consumption behaviors is an acute societal problem that can have severe consequences for adolescents, and businesses in particular have been accused of making such consumption particularly appealing and accessible. However, the causes of unethical behaviors are not well understood and research on the causes has been mixed. In this research, we investigate the effects of coping strategies for loneliness on adolescents’ adoption of unethical behaviors, a topic that business ethics research has not explored. In a large-scale study (n = 409) of adolescents (ages 13–17), we show that whether loneliness leads to the adoption of unethical behaviors depends on the strategies adolescents use to cope with their loneliness: active coping strategies are associated with fewer unethical behaviors, whereas passive coping strategies are associated with more unethical behaviors. In addition, we show that active and passive coping strategies can be executed through consumption practices. We show that the relation between active coping and fewer unethical behaviors is mediated by sharing of possessions, whereas the relation between passive coping strategies and more unethical behaviors is mediated by product acquisition. Finally, we also show that these mediated relations differ as a function of age cohort (grade level). The indirect effect of active coping on fewer unethical behaviors via sharing holds only for middle school adolescents, whereas the indirect effect of passive coping on more unethical behaviors via product acquisition holds only for high school adolescents. We shed new light on both the bright and dark sides of materialism and unethical behaviors and provide practical implications for research on loneliness, business ethics, and unethical behaviors.


Loneliness Coping strategies Unethical behaviors Adolescent consumers Materialism Sharing Age cohort 



This research was supported by grants from Mercur (SKEMA) to the first authors, and from the HEC Paris Foundation to the second and third authors.

Compliance with Ethical Standards

Conflict of interest

Elodie Gentina declares that she has no conflict of interest. L. J. Shrum declares that he has no conflict of interest. Tina Lowrey declares that she has no conflict of interest.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.SKEMA Business School - Université de Lille - Mercur Research CenterEuralilleFrance
  2. 2.HEC ParisJouy-en-Josas CedexFrance

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