Individuals consume to align themselves with certain people and distinguish themselves from others. Social stratification and . People consume or make purchases in order to fit into certain social status groups and separate themselves from other social status groups. Ultimately, access to capital and the ability for consumers to make specific purchases socially stratifies.
Consumerism and Social Stratification
Verdant (2013) describes consumerism as having innocent roots that has transformed into a competitive virus and a sociological imprint to a perpetual accumulation of material items and engagement of consumer services.
The process began innocently enough. At first, [there] were a growing number of pleasant conveniences for housewives in the 1950s, then a car for everyone with the gradual and inevitable erosion of mass transit, then the ubiquitousness of things and chemical products technologically unimaginable a few decades earlier.
With this came a growing availability of consumer credit and debt to make things available, the over-dependence on labor-saving devices, total dependence on the car and absolute necessity of full time work, the two income household to pay for more and more, then the importation of cheaper and cheaper goods and the disappearance of manufacturing jobs, the commodification of labor and the discarding of loyalties to our citizens and taxpayers and now the decline of service work with professionals next to be downsized.
Social stratification lies at the center of consumerism. Often the consumer faces the question, “Do I want this item or service or do I need it?” The notion of wanting and needing becomes somewhat subjective in the consumer reality. Does the consumer need a particular good or service to support his or her general welfare and basic living needs? or, does the consumer need a particular good or service to distinguish himself to attain income and other comforts associated possibly with an affluent lifestyle? For instance, does a car serve the purpose of allowing an individual a means to travel to and from work, so that he or she can earn an income to at least support basic living necessities? or, for example, does a car not only functionally serve as a means of transportation, but a means to socially stratify an individual into an “upper echelon” in order to earn and maintain a salary that stands well above the average?
Interconnected to social stratification, branding also influences consumerism. McLaurent (2008) expresses how branding influences consumerism.
Marketers prey on our fear of being left out. Branding can be used to get us to buy more than we need, so that we might continually ‘fit in’, that we might align ourselves with whatever our peers are currently identifying with. In her controversial work, No Logo, Naomi Klein writes, “Until the early seventies, logos on clothes were generally hidden from view, discreetly placed on the inside of the collar. did appear on the outside of shirts in the first half of the century, but such sporty attire was pretty much restricted to the golf courses and tennis courts of the rich.” Within the book, published in 2000, she observes that in the 1970’s icons of polo players and alligators allowed wearers to parade their wealth status and that soon “the logo was transformed … To an active fashion accessory. Most significantly the logo itself growing in size, ballooning from a three quarter inch emblem into a chest-sized marquee.”
From the perspective of social stratification and social stratification through branding, today, our main motivation to consume is our desire to be similar to some people and different from others. Consumerism stands rudimentary to social stratification, or vice versus. According to Miller (2013), “Social stratification may be defined as long-standing power, wealth, and status between groups within a single society. These groups are typically separated into classes or castes, but may also extend to ethnic separation.” Miller (2013) contends that “placement into a social hierarchy is dependent on an individual’s access to valued resources: stratification is a system where groups are treated differently based on their societal roles or social status.” Members of society can align with various social status groups or separate themselves from others simply by making certain consumer purchases.
It is not always the affluent vs. The poor paradigm in examining consumer branding and social stratification. Sometimes consumerism relates to branding and choice. For example, two brands of shoes might have the same purchasing price. However, individuals may actually buy certain shoes to demonstrate that they prefer to be associated with a certain social group rather than another. Nevertheless, social stratification becomes more prominent in scenarios where certain goods and services are only attainable by individuals with more financial wealth.
Ironically, some individuals will try to socially stratify themselves into a class in which by consumer purchases that exceeds their means of living. In order to appear more like the rich and less like the poor, some people will appropriate their finances on items that correspond to less longevity or stability in relation to basic living. For example, to appear more wealthy, some individuals will purchase a luxury car which highly strains their budget. While these individuals have a fancy, luxury car to drive, when seen in public, they might live in extremely low economic housing, have no appreciating assets, possibly have poor health insurance coverage, have no savings, possess a disproportionate debt to income ratio, and struggle with paying for living essentials. or, the same individuals may prefer to struggle with purchasing gas to drive the vehicle, just in order to declare they own the vehicle and can be visibly seen driving the vehicle on occasion. Likewise, others perpetuating the same consumer cycle, would prefer to purchase a used luxury car, evoking a high level of status, with an unstable engine than purchase an economy car with a stable engine. The economy car with the stable engine would could serve the purpose of reliable transportation, while the luxury car with the unstable engine might help with temporarily distinguishing a person as a more affluent consumer than an individual with an economy car.
McLaren, Warren. (2008). Logo no go for Nau. A peek at branding and consumerism . Available:
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Miller, Rene. (2013). What is social stratification. Available:
http://www.ehow..html. Last accessed May 12, 2013.
Verdent.net. (2013). How consumerism affects our society. Available: http://verdant.net/society.htm.
Last accessed 12th May 2013.