An attempt is made in this paper to establish a foundation for a theory of materialism and quality of life. The theory posits that overall life satisfaction (quality of life) is partly determined by satisfaction with standard of living. Satisfaction with standard of living, in turn, is determined by evaluations of one's actual standard of living compared to a set goal. Materialists experience greater dissatisfaction with their standard of living than nonmaterialists, which in turn spills over to overall life causing dissatisfaction with life in general. Materialists experience dissatisfaction with their standard of living because they set standard of living goals that are inflated and unrealistically high. These goals set by materialists are more influenced by affective-based expectations (such as ideal, deserved, and need-based expectations) than cognitive-based ones (such as predictive, past, and ability based expectations). Materialists' ideal standard-of-living expectations are influenced by social comparisons involving remote referents, more so than comparisons involving standards that are situationally imposed. Examples of situationally-imposed standards are perceptions of wealth, income, and material possessions of family, friends, neighbors, colleagues, and so on. In contrast, examples of standards based on remote sources are perceptions of standard of living of others in one's community, town, state, country, other countries; perceptions of standard of living of others based on gender, age, education, ethnicity, occupation, and social class. This tendency to use remote referents in social comparisons may account for materialists' inflated and value-laden expectations of their standard of living. Materialists' deserved standard-of-living expectations are influenced by the tendency to engage in equity comparisons involving income and work. Thus, materialists compare themselves with others that seem to have more income and worked no harder. These equity comparisons generate feelings of inequity, injustice, anger, or envy. These emotions may also account for materialists' inflated and value-laden expectations of their standard of living. Materialists' standard-of-living expectations based on minimum needs are influenced by the tendency to spend more than generate income. This proclivity to overconsume and underproduce may be partly responsible for materialists' inflated and value-laden expectations of their standard of living.
This is a preview of subscription content, log in to check access.
Buy single article
Instant access to the full article PDF.
Price includes VAT for USA
Subscribe to journal
Immediate online access to all issues from 2019. Subscription will auto renew annually.
This is the net price. Taxes to be calculated in checkout.
Adams, J. S.: 1963, ‘Toward an understanding of inequity’, Journal of Abnormal and Social Psychology 67, pp. 422–436.
Aiello Jr., A., J. A. Czepiel and L. J. Rosenberg: 1977, ‘Scaling the heights of consumer satisfaction: An evaluation of alternative measures’, in R. Day (ed.), Consumer Satisfaction, Dissatisfaction, and Complaint Behavior (Indiana University School of Business, Bloomington, IN), pp. 43–50.
Andrews, Frank M. and Stephen B. Withey: 1976, Social Indicators of Well-Being: American's Perception of Life Quality (Plenum Press, New York).
Belk, Ruassell W.: 1983, ‘Worldly possessions: Issues and criticisms’, in Richard Bagozzi and Alice M. Tybout (eds.), Advances in Consumer Research, vol. 10 (Association for Consumer Research, Ann Arbor, MI), pp. 514–519.
Belk, Ruassell W.: 1984, ‘Three scales to measure constructs related to materialism: Reliability, validity and relationship to measures of happiness’, in Thomas Kinnear (eds.), Advances in Consumer Research, vol. 11 (Association for Consumer Research, Ann Arbor, MI), pp. 291–297.
Belk, Russell W.: 1985, ‘Materialism: Trait aspects of living in the material world’, Journal of Consumer Research 12, pp. 265–280.
Belk, Russell W. and Richard Pollay: 1985, ‘Images of ourselves: The good life in twentieth century advertising’, Journal of Consumer Research 11 (March), pp. 887–897.
Belk, Russell W., Melanie Wallendorf and John F. Sherry, Jr.: 1991, ‘The sacred and the profane in consumer behavior: Theodicy on the odyssey’, Journal of Consumer Research 16 (June), pp. 1–38.
Bloch, Peter H. and Marsha L. Richins: 1983, ‘A theoretical model for the study of product importance perceptions’, Journal of Marketing, Summer, pp. 69–81.
Brewer, W. and G. V. Nakamura: 1984, ‘The nature and functions of schemas’, in R. S. Wyer Jr. and T. K. Srull (eds.), Handbook of Social Cognition (Erlbaum, Hillsdale, NJ), pp. 119–159.
Burke, P. L. and J. C. Tully: 1977, ‘The measurement of role identity’, Social Forces 55, pp. 881–897.
Cadotte, Ernest, Robert Woodruff and Roger Jenkins: 1987, ‘Expectations and norms in models of consumer satisfaction’, Journal of Marketing Research 24 (August), pp. 305–314.
Campbell, A., P. E. Converse and W. L. Rodgers: 1976, The Quality of American Life: Perceptions, Evaluations, and Satisfactions (Russell Sage Foundation, New York).
Celsi, Richard L. and Jerry C. Olson: 1988, ‘The role of involvement in attention and comprehension processes’, Journal of Consumer Research, September, pp. 210–214.
Cohen, A. R.: 1959, ‘Some implications of self-esteem for social influence’, in C. Hovland and Irving Janis (eds.), Personality and Persuasability (Yale University Press, New Haven, CT), pp. 102–120.
Cole, Dennis, Newell D. Wright, M. Joseph Sirgy, Rustan Kosenko, Don Rahtz and H. Lee Meadow: 1992, ‘Testing the reliability and validity of two measures of materialism’, in Victoria L. Crittenden (ed.), Development in Marketing Science, vol. 15 (Academy of Marketing Science, Chestnut Hill, MA), pp. 383–387.
Coopersmith, S.: 1967, The Antecedents of Self-Esteem (W. H. Freeman, San Francisco, CA).
Dawson, Scott and Gary Bamossy: 1990, ‘Isolating the effect of non-economic factors on the development of consumer culture: A comparison of materialism in the Netherlands and the United States’, in Marvin Goldberg, Gerald Gorn and Richard W. Pollay (eds.), Advances in Consumer Research (Association for Consumer Research, Provo, UT), pp. 182–185.
Dawson, Scott and Gary Bamossy: 1991, ‘If “We are what we have,” What are we when we don't have? To have possessions: A handbook of ownership and property’, Special Issue, Journal of Social Behavior and Personality 6(6), pp. 363–384.
Day, Ralph L.: 1978, ‘Beyond social indicators: Quality of life at the individual level’, in Fred D. Reynolds and Hiram C. Barksdale (eds.), Marketing and the Quality of Life, (American Marketing Association, Chicago, IL), pp. 11–18.
Day, Ralph L.: 1987, ‘Relationship between life satisfaction and consumer satisfaction’, in A. C. Samli (ed.), Marketing and Quality-of-Life Interface (Greenwood Press, Westport, CT), pp. 289–311.
Diener, Edward: 1984, ‘Subjective well-being’, Psychological Bulletin 75(3), pp. 542–575.
Diener, Edward and Frank Fujita: 1996, ‘Social comparisons and subjective well-being’, in B. Buunk and R. Gibbons (eds.), Health, Coping, and Social Comparison (Erlbaum, Hillsdale, NJ).
Douglas, M. and B. Isherwood: 1979, The World of Goods (Basic, New York).
Duncan, O. D.: 1975, ‘Does money buy satisfaction?’ Social Indicators Research 2, pp. 267–274.
Easterlin, R. A.: 1974, ‘Does economic growth improve the human lot? Some empirical evidence’, in D. Reder (ed.), Nations and Households in Economic Growth (Academic Press, New York), pp. 89–125.
Faber, R. J. and T. C. O'Guinn: 1988, ‘Compulsive consumption and credit abuse’, Journal of Consumer Policy 11, pp. 97–109.
Festinger, Leon: 1954, ‘A theory of social comparison processes’, Human Relations 7, pp. 117–140.
Fishbein, Martin and Icek Ajzen: 1975, Belief, Attitude, Intention, and Behavior: An Introduction to Theory and Research (Addison-Wesley, Reading, MA).
Fournier, Susan and Marsha L. Richins: 1991, ‘Some theoretical and popular notions concerning materialism’, A Handbook of Ownership and Property, Special Issue, Journal of Social Behavior and Personality 6(6), pp. 403–414.
Fromm, Rich: 1976, To Have or to Be? (Harper and Row, New York).
Garza, R. T. and L. G. Herringer: 1987, ‘Social Identity: A Multidimensional Approach’, Journal of Social Psychology 127, pp. 299–308.
Gecas, V.: 1982, ‘The self-concept’, in R. H. Turner and J. F. Short (eds.), Annual Review of Sociology, vol. 8 (Annual Reviews, Palo Alto, CA), pp. 1–33.
Gilbert, P. and P. Trower: 1990, ‘The evolution and manifestation of social anxiety’, in W. R. Crozier (ed.), Shyness and Embarrassment: Perspectives from Social Psychology (Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, MA), pp. 144–177.
Griffin, N., L. Chassin and R. Young: 1981, ‘Measurement of global self-concept versus multiple role-specific self-concepts in adolescents’, Adolescence 16, pp. 49–56.
Hegel, G. W. F.: 1807, Hegel's Phenomenology of Spirit (Oxford University Press, Oxford).
Hoelter, J. W.: 1985, ‘The structure of self-conception: Conceptualization and measurement’, Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 49, pp. 1392–1407.
Homans, G. C.: 1961, Social Behavior: Its Elementary Forms (Harcourt Brace, New York).
Houston, M. J. and M. L. Rothchild: 1977, ‘A paradigm for research on consumer involvement’, Working Paper No. 11–77–46, University of Wisconsin-Madison.
Inglehart, Ronald: 1981, ‘Post-materialism in an environment of insecurity’, American Political Science Review 75 (December), pp. 880–900.
James, William: 1890, Principles of Psychology (Holt, New York).
Kapteyn, A. and T. J. Wansbeek: 1982, ‘Empirical evidence on preference formation’, Journal of Economic Psychology 2, pp. 137–154.
Kapteyn, A., T. J. Wansbeek and J. Buyze: 1980, ‘The dynamics of preference formation’, Journal of Economic Behavior and Organization 1, pp. 123–157.
Kleine, R. E. III and Jerome B. Kernan: 1991, ‘Contextual influences on the meanings ascribed to ordinary consumption objects’, Journal of Consumer Research 18, pp. 311–324.
Kleine, R. E. III, S. S. Kleine and Jerome B. Kernan: 1992, ‘Mundane everyday consumption and the self: A conceptual orientation and prospects for consumer research’, in J. F. Sherry and B. Sternthal (eds.), Advances in Consumer Research, vol. 19 (Association for Consumer Research, Provo, UT), pp. 411–415.
Kleine, R. E. III, S. S. Kleine and Jerome B. Kernan: 1993, ‘Mundane consumption and the self: A social-identity perspective’, Journal of Consumer Psychology 2(3), pp. 209–235.
Kruglanski, A. W. and O. Mayseless: 1990, ‘Classic and current social comparison research: Expanding the perspective’, Psychological Bulletin 108, pp. 195–208.
Leelakulthanit, Orose, Ralph Day and Rockney Walters: 1991, ‘Investigating the relationship between marketing and overall satisfaction with life in a developing country’, Journal of Macromarketing (Spring), pp. 3–23.
Markus, H.: 1997, ‘Self-schemata and the processing of information about the self’, Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 35, pp. 63–78.
Mason, R. S.: 1981, Conspicuous Consumption: A Study of Exceptional Consumer Behavior (Grower Publishing Co., Westmead, England).
Masters, J. C., W. Furman and R. Barden: 1977, ‘Effects of achievement standards, tangible rewards and self-dispensed achievement evaluations on children's task mastery’, Child Development 48, pp. 217–224.
McCall, G. J. and J. L. Simmons: 1978, Identities and Interactions: An Examination of Human Associations in Everyday Life (Free Press, New York).
McCracken, G.: 1988, Culture and Consumption (Indiana University Press, Bloomington).
Meadow, H. Lee: 1988, ‘The satisfaction attitude hierarchy: Does marketing contribute?’, in S. Shapiro and others (eds.), Proceedings of the 1988 American Marketing Association Winter Educators' Conference (American Marketing Association, Chicago, IL), pp. 482–483.
Meadow, H. Lee, John T. Mentzer, Don R. Rahtz and M. Joseph Sirgy: 1992, ‘A life satisfaction measure based on judgment theory’, Social Indicator Research 26(1), pp. 23–59.
Merton, R. K. and A. S. Kitt: 1950, ‘Contributions to the theory of reference group behavior’, in R. K. Merton and P. F. Lazarsfeld (eds.), Continuities in Social Research: Studies in the Scope and Method of “The American Soldier” (Free Press, Glencoe, IL).
Michalos, Alex: 1985, ‘Multiple Discrepancies Theory (MDT)’, Social Indicators Research 16, pp. 347–413.
Morgan, A. J.: 1993, ‘The evolving self in consumer behavior: Exploring possible selves’, in L. McAlister and Rothchild (eds.), Advances in Consumer Research, vol. 20 (Association for Consumer Research, Provo, UT), pp. 429–432.
Morgan, M.: 1984, ‘Heavy television viewing and perceived quality of life’, Journalism Quarterly 61, pp. 499–504, 740.
Neugarten, B. L., R. J. Havighurst and S. S. Tobin: 1961, ‘The measurement of life satisfaction’, Journal of Gerontology 16, pp. 134–143.
Oliver, Richard L.: 1980, ‘A cognitive model of antecedents and consequences of satisfaction decisions’, Journal of Marketing Research 17 (November), pp. 460–469.
Packard, Vance: 1959, The Satus Seekers (Simon and Schuster, New York).
Pelham, B. W. and J. D. Wachsmuth: 1995, ‘The waxing and waning of the social self: Assimilation and contrast in social comparison’, Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 69, pp. 825–838.
Plato: 1961, Plato: The Collected Dialogues, edited by Edith Hamilton and Huntington Cairns (Princeton University Press, Princeton, NJ).
Rahtz, Don R., M. Joseph Sirgy and H. Lee Meadow: 1988, ‘Elderly life satisfaction and television viewership: Replication and extension’, in S. Shapiro and H. H. Walle (eds.), 1988 American Market Association Winter Educators' Conference (American Marketing Association, Chicago, IL), pp. 409–413.
Rahtz, Don R., M. Joseph Sirgy and H. Lee Meadow: 1989, ‘The elderly audience: Correlates of television orientation’, Journal of Advertising 18, 9–20.
Richins, Marsha L.: 1987, ‘Media, materialism, and human happiness’, in Melanie Wallendorf and Paul Anderson (eds.), Advances in Consumer Research, vol. 14 (Association for Consumer Research, Provo, UT), pp. 352–356.
Richins, Marsha L.: 1988, ‘Media, materialism, and human happiness’, in S. Shapiro and H. H. Walle (eds.), 1988 American Marketing Association Winter Educators' Conference (American Marketing Association, Chicago, IL), pp. 352–356.
Richins, Marsha L.: 1992, ‘Media images, materialism, and what ought to be: The role of social comparisons’, in Floyd Rudmin and Marsha Richins (eds.), Materialism: Meaning, Measure, and Morality (Association for Consumer Research, Provo, UT), pp. 202–206.
Richins, Marsha L and Scott Dawson: 1992, ‘A consumer values orientation for materialism and its measurement: Scale development and validation’, Journal of Consumer Research 19 (December), pp. 303–316.
Rogers, Carl and R. Dymond (eds.): 1954, Psychotherapy and Personality Changes (University of Chicago Press, Chicago, IL).
Rook, Dennis W.: 1987, ‘The buying impulse’, Journal of Consumer Research 14 (September), pp. 189–199.
Rosenberg, M.: 1979, Conceiving the Self (Basic Books, New York).
Satre, Jean-Paul: 1943, Being and Nothingness: A Phenomenological Essay on Ontology (Philosophical Library, New York).
Schudson, M.: 1984, Advertising, The Uneasy Persuasion (Basic Books, New York).
Scitovsky, Tibor: 1992, The Joyless Economy (Oxford University Press, New York).
Scott, W. A. and J. Stumpf: 1984, ‘Personal satisfaction and role-performance: Subjective and social aspects of adaptation’, Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 47, pp. 812–827.
Sirgy, M. Joseph: 1982, ‘Self-concept in consumer behavior: A critical review’, Journal of Consumer Research 9, pp. 287–300.
Sirgy, M. Joseph: 1986, Self-Congruity: Toward a Theory of Personality and Cybernetics (Praeger, New York).
Sirgy, M. Joseph, Dennis Cole, Rustan Kosenko, H. Lee Meadow, Don D. Rahtz, Muris Cicic, G. X. Jin, D. Yarsuvat, David Blenkhorn, Natasha Nagpal: 1995, ‘A life satisfaction measure: additional validation data for the congruity life satisfaction measure’, Social Indicator Research 34, pp. 237–259.
Sirgy, M. Joseph, David E. Hansen and James E. Littlefield: 1994, ‘Does hospital satisfaction affect life satisfaction?’, Journal of Macromarketing 14 (Fall), pp. 36–46.
Slater, P.: 1980, Material Possessions Addiction (E. P. Dutton, New York).
Solomon, Michael R.: 1983, ‘The role of products as social stimuli: A symbolic interactionism perspective’, Journal of Consumer Research 10, pp. 319–329.
Stryker, S.: 1968, ‘Identity salience and role performance: The relevance of symbolic interaction theory for family’, Journal of Marriage and the Family 30, pp. 558–564.
Swallow, S. R. and N. A. Kuiper: 1988, ‘Social comparison and negative self-evaluation: An application to depression’, Clinical Psychology Review 8, pp. 55–76.
Swallow, S. R. and N. A. Kuiper: 1990, ‘Mild depression, dysfunctional cognitions, and interest in social comparison information’, Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology 9, pp. 289–302.
Veblen, Thorstein: 1989, 1953, The Theory of the Leisure Class (Mentor, New York; The Macmillan Co., New York).
Veenhoven, R.: 1991, ‘Is happiness relative?’, Social Indicators Research 24, pp. 1–34.
Wright, Newell and Val Larsen: 1993, ‘Materialism and life satisfaction: A meta-analysis’, Journal of Consumer Satisfaction, Dissatisfaction, and Complaining Behavior 6, pp. 158–165.
About this article
Cite this article
Sirgy, M.J. Materialism and Quality of Life. Social Indicators Research 43, 227–260 (1998). https://doi.org/10.1023/A:1006820429653
- Life Satisfaction
- Social Class
- Social Comparison
- Actual Standard
- Material Possession