Changes in materialism, changes in psychological well-being: Evidence from three longitudinal studies and an intervention experiment

Abstract

Few studies have examined how changes in materialism relate to changes in well-being; fewer have experimentally manipulated materialism to change well-being. Studies 1, 2, and 3 examined how changes in materialistic aspirations related to changes in well-being, using varying time frames (12 years, 2 years, and 6 months), samples (US young adults and Icelandic adults), and measures of materialism and well-being. Across all three studies, results supported the hypothesis that people’s well-being improves as they place relatively less importance on materialistic goals and values, whereas orienting toward materialistic goals relatively more is associated with decreases in well-being over time. Study 2 additionally demonstrated that this association was mediated by changes in psychological need satisfaction. A fourth, experimental study showed that highly materialistic US adolescents who received an intervention that decreased materialism also experienced increases in self-esteem over the next several months, relative to a control group. Thus, well-being changes as people change their relative focus on materialistic goals.

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Fig. 1

Notes

  1. 1.

    Importantly, this meta-analysis reported that measures which assess the relative importance of materialistic values and goals have stronger associations with well-being than do measures that assess the absolute importance of materialistic values and goals. Given this finding, as well as the long theoretical insistence in both the value (Rokeach 1973; Schwartz 1992) and materialism (Kasser and Ryan 1993) literatures that measures of relative values are more appropriate than are measures of absolute values, we focus here on the former rather than the latter type of assessments.

  2. 2.

    We do not include in this review the longitudinal study conducted by Nickerson et al. (2003), as it measured materialism at one point in time and well-being several years later. Such a design precludes conclusions about whether changes in materialism are associated with changes in well-being.

  3. 3.

    Both Kasser et al. (1995) and Kasser and Ryan (1993, Study 3) used Aspiration Index ratings from this sample at 18 years of age to test other hypotheses.

  4. 4.

    We used a parallel regression format to examine whether changes in the three other goals assessed at both ages 18 and 30 (i.e., affiliation, community feeling, and self-acceptance) were related to changes in psychopathology. None of the results approached significance.

  5. 5.

    Sheldon et al. (2004) and Niemiec et al. (2009) used the same sample and some of the same measures as in Study 2. However, neither tested the current hypotheses with the exact same set of data. Specifically, Sheldon et al. used a measure of personal strivings to assess goals (rather than the AI), used Time 1 and Time 2 data from the longitudinal study (rather than Time 1 and Time 3 data), and did not test whether need satisfaction mediated the relation between goal content and well-being. Niemiec et al. used Time 2 and Time 3 data (rather than Time 1 and Time 3 data), assessed the attainment (rather than the importance) of life goals, and focused on a broad array of intrinsic and extrinsic goals (rather than the specific goal of financial success).

  6. 6.

    As in Study 1, we again used a parallel regression format to examine whether changes in the six other goals assessed at T1 and T3 (i.e., affiliation, community feeling, self-acceptance, physical health, image, and popularity) were related to changes in SWB. Results showed that increasing the relative importance placed on community feeling aspirations was related to improvements in SWB (β = .30, p < .001), but no other results approached significance.

  7. 7.

    Although the RMSEA index of .10 is rather high, Rigdon (1996, pp. 375–376) writes that, “…when sample size is low, RMSEA may suggest rejecting a model that otherwise would be accepted. (Arguably, the problem lies in the rule of thumb for interpreting RMSEA …).”

  8. 8.

    We collected parallel measures of saving and spending attitudes (each of which were composed of responses to a Likert-type scale, the Aspiration Index, and the $100 windfall scenario); analyses found that the intervention did not affect either of these composites, suggesting it primarily worked to decrease materialism (i.e., spending attitudes).

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Acknowledgments

The 18-year-old data collection in Study 1 was supported by the W. T. Grant Foundation (Grant 88113087); the 30-year-old data collection was supported by the National Institute of Mental Health (Grant 1 P50 MH-59396). Study 2 was supported by a grant from the National Institute of Mental Health (MH-53385). Study 4 was supported by a grant from the Marjorie Weil and Marvin Edward Mitchell Foundation. The authors thank Clara Baldwin, Melvin Zax, and Jill Gray for their assistance with Study 1 and Cicely Robinson for her assistance with Study 4.

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Correspondence to Tim Kasser.

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After the first author, the remaining authors are listed in alphabetical order within the study to which they most contributed, in the order that the four studies are reported in this article.

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Kasser, T., Rosenblum, K.L., Sameroff, A.J. et al. Changes in materialism, changes in psychological well-being: Evidence from three longitudinal studies and an intervention experiment. Motiv Emot 38, 1–22 (2014). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11031-013-9371-4

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Keywords

  • Materialism
  • Values
  • Goals
  • Well-being
  • Interventions