The History Of The Level Of Materialism Psychology Essay

Concerns over the rising level of materialism in adolescents and children are increasing among parents, social scientists and educators. In a recent national survey, 88% of respondents spoke that American are too materialistic, 93 % spoke that Americans were too focused on making money and working and 87% spoke that consumer culture makes it too difficult to infuse positive values in American children (Van Boven, Campbell, & Gilovich, 2010).

More than half of 9-14 year-olds agree that, “when they grow up, the more money they have, the happier they are” and over 60% agree that “the only kind of job when they grow up is one that gets me a lot of money” . These trends have led social scientist to conclude that adolescents of today are “the most consumer-involved, brand oriented and materialistic generation in history” (Chaplin & John, 2010).

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Longitudinal studies of materialism among high school and college student indicated that there are dramatic increases in materialistic value. Over more, the popular press has been characterized our children and adolescents as “hyper-consumer,” spending approximately $23.4 billion and affecting an additional $485 billion of household purchase each year. In addition, the astounding increase in marketing which target at children has prompt parental concern about materialism. In which 87% of parents of children from the aged of 2-17 feeling that marketing targeted at children and make those children become too materialistic (John, 2005).

In Malaysia, it is also showing that credit cards bankruptcy among Malaysian Youth has grown from 2.10% in 2006 to 7.63% in 2007. Thus, this can be explained that materialism increases the tendency of compulsive buying through the increase cases in credit card bankruptcy. Thus, because of having materialistic tendency and eventually it is led to credit card bankruptcy (Nga, Yong & Sellappan, 2011).

According to the above mention issue, materialism among adolescents increased gradually in our society. Mostly, adolescents will tend to compulsive buying without control. A study reported that compulsive buying have a strong association with materialistic value (Mueller, Claes, Mitchell, Faber, Fischer, & de Zwaan, 2011). Hence, materialism is a trend among adolescents.

It is important that measures are taken to prevent negative consequences caused by materialism. So, this study aims to examine the materialism among Malaysian adolescents and adults in more depth, in order to create better understanding and awareness to the parents, educator and including adolescents itself.

Background of Study

Materialism can refer to an orientation which views material goods and money as important for social progress and personal happiness (Flouri, 2004). Besides that, materialism is also a central element of societal cultures worldwide, in which is a key of moral underpinning of contemporary management thought (Deckop, Jurkiewicz, & Giacalone, 2010).

Materialism is a topic of great interest to researchers, social commentator and public-policy makers (Cleveland & Chang, 2009). It continues to be an important research topic with research examining it either from an individual perspective or a societal perspective (Kilbourne, et al., 2009). Modern materialism is widely view as detrimental to society. In addition, early work exhibit materialism with personality traits, while contemporary research focuses on materialism in terms of values and aspirations (Banerjee & Dittmar, 2008). Some researches argues that materialism is a sign of confident and prosperous society; meanwhile other research criticizes materialism as a negative consequence of a consumption-oriented society (Kilbourne, et al., 2009)

In the 1970s, researchers found that materialism in adolescents correlated with factors such as ineffective family communication patterns, higher levels of television viewing and greater peer communication (Chaplin & John, 2007).

Since the early of 1980s, materialism has obtained a great deal of attention in the consumer behavior literature (Griffin, Babin, & Christensen, 2004). It revealed that higher level of materialism in young consumers were caused by materialistic parents, less affluent households, disrupted families, marketing promotion and greater susceptibility to influence from peer (Chaplin & John, 2007).

Materialism is inversely related to psychological wellbeing. It showed that materialism correlate inversely with positive affect (Christopher, Victoria Kuo, Abraham, Noel, & Linz, 2004). Indeed, people who are highly materialistic, believe happiness can be achieved through the acquisition of material possessions and money, have poorer social relationships than people who are less materialistic. In addition, highly materialistic people tend to be less satisfying by friends and family, behave less cooperatively in social dilemmas, report lower levels of empathy and tend to be more Machiavellian (Van Boven, Campbell, & Gilovich, 2010).

Statement of Problem

Numerous studies consistently shown that life-satisfaction, happiness of materialistic individual will score lower on indicators such as, physical health, mental health, life satisfaction and happiness (Deckop, Jurkiewicz, & Giacalone, 2010). Besides, materialism is negatively associated with subjective well-being and face a greater risk of psychological disorder compare to less materialistic people (Burroughs, 2002).

Individual who scored higher on materialism will had more favorable attitude toward spending. Thus, through compulsive buying, materialistic person will lead to personal debt. Besides that, high materialistic person are more likely to have loan for luxury purchase (Garoarsdottir & Dittmar, 2012). So, adolescents who score high in materialism are actually at risk of having personal debt in the future.

Besides, researches also finding that higher levels of materialism were associated with greater engagement in risky behavior such as consumption of alcohol, marijuana, cigarettes and as well as sexual precociousness from the ages of 15-18. Meanwhile, from the ages of 18 to 21, the result shown that higher level of materialism were associated with greater use of alcohol, marijuana, cigarettes and other illicit drugs as well as a greater frequency of substance abuse (Auerbach, McWhinnie, Goldfinger, Abela, Zhu, & Yao, 2010).

In addition, adolescent materialism was also driving the increase of teen prostitution. The key driving force behind is to obtain sufficient money to purchase goods (Olivia,Tong, & Wong, 2012).

Thus, it is valuable and demand to have research done in this aspect so that possible preventions and other solutions can be utilized to reduce those economic problems and social behavior of adolescents.

Significance of Study

In Malaysia, there is only few existing research about materialism, so it is hard to find related information in Malaysia context. Mostly, all the information are getting from western context, where western culture and belief are not that suitable to be used to study materialistic in Malaysia context. Therefore, the current study serves to contribute to the existing body of knowledge in the context of Malaysia. In which, it can provide more additional information on materialism among adolescents.

Moreover, the finding of this study hope to create awareness and provide clear understanding to school as well as parents about the consequence of materialism among adolescents. Furthermore, school, educator, parents and adolescents itself need to know the factors that lead to their level of materialism, so that they can understand and even control their materialistic attitude better.

Thus, this study aims to examine the differences in demographic variables such as age and gender differences in materialism among Malaysian adolescents.

Objective of Study

To explore the level of materialism of Malaysian’s adolescents and adults.

To identify whether gender different affect level of materialism among adolescents and adults.

To investigate whether age affect level of materialism among adolescents and adults.

Research Questions

Are Malaysian’s adolescents and adults materialistic?

Is there any gender difference in the level of materialism among Malaysian adolescents and adults?

Is there any age difference in the level of materialism among adolescents and adults?


Malaysian’s adolescents and adults are materialistic.

There is a difference of gender in materialism among adolescents and adults.

There is a difference of age in materialism between adolescents and adults.

Operational Definitions

Materialism. Richins and Dawson (1992) define materialism as “a system of beliefs and value about the importance of obtaining material possessions”. It involved three elements: acquisition as the pursuit of happiness, possession- defined success and acquisition centrality (Furnham & Valgeirsson, 2007). In happiness scale, individual believe that acquisition and possession are essential to their well-being and satisfaction in life. The success scale reveals the extent that individual tend to judge themselves and others by the quality and number of possessions accumulated. In centrality scale, it describes how much acquisitions and possessions are placed in the center of one’s life (Furnham & Valgeirsson, 2007).

Adolescent. Adolescent is defines as a complex, transitory period that involves rapid cognitive, biological and social growth. It is the developmental period of transition from childhood to early adulthood, entered at approximately 10 to13 years of age and ends in the late teens (Santrock, 2010). In the transitional stage of development, adolescents will undergo a period of genital phase (Freud), identity crisis (Erikson), formal operational stage (Piaget), social changes and emotional distress (Taghva, 2010). In this period, adolescent are continually learning how to behave in a new situation or phase of their life (Gil, Kwon, Good, & Johnson, 2012).

Adult. Adulthood can be broken into three periods of development which are early adulthood, middle adulthood, and late adulthood (Santrock, 2010).The current study’s adults are refer to those in the period of early adulthood. Early adulthood usually begins in the late teens or early 20s and last through the 30s. In this period, adult establishing personal, career development intensifies and economic independence. This is the sixth stage of development in Erikson’s psychosocial stage, which consists of intimacy versus isolation. At this stage, adult will face the developmental task of forming intimate relationship such as friendship or romantic relationship if not, isolation will result (Santrock, 2010)

Age. The term “age” refers to chronological age which explained the number of years that people lived. Adolescents in this study ranged from the aged of (15-19), however adults ranged from the aged of (20-30).

Gender. Gender refers to the behavior, attitudes and feeling that a given culture associates with a person’s biological sex. Behavior that is compatible with cultural expectations is constituted as gender-normative; behaviors that are seen as incompatible with those expectations referred to gender non-conformity.



Background of materialism

Interest in the topic of materialism and its influence is overt as early as in the Greek philosophers. Studies of materialism have increase in recent years and most of those studies verify different aspects of materialism which involve social or individual consequences. However, still other research revealed that materialism is neither bad nor good. It also represented a socially constructed that vary depending on a society’s value system. If a society’s value system changes, thus the evaluation of materialism will change as well (Kilbourne, et al., 2009).

On an individual level, research shown that in general materialism is inversely associated with well-being, self-esteem, quality and satisfaction of life. Besides, materialism also seems to be positively correlated with psychological and physical difficulties (Roberts & Clement, 2007).

However, with regard to society, research indicate that materialism is negatively influence the environment, in which leads to less charitable donation, reduce time spent together as a family and decrease involvement in communities (Roberts & Clement, 2007).

Studies until today focus more on the social characteristics and personality trait that are correlated with materialism either as an antecedent or as a consequence (Vincent & Othman, 2012). Furthermore, contemporary research also focuses materialism in terms of values and aspirations (Banerjee & Dittmar, 2008).

Definitions of materialism

A number of different, although similar, definitions of materialism have been developed over time (Kilbourne, Grunhagen, & Foley, 2005). According to the Oxford English Dictionary, its refer materialism as a “devotion to material desires and needs, to the neglect of spiritual matters; a way of opinion, tendency and life based entirely on material interests” (Roberts & Clement, 2007).

According to Ward and Wackman (1971), refer materialism as “an orientation in which consider money and material objects as critical for social progress and personal happiness. In a meanwhile, as a political sociologist, Inglehart (1981), defined materialism as “an economic orientation to life such as a structural or cultural variable or give priority to economic values that are exceed other values for instance friendship, civil power and freedom”. In which, materialism is a preoccupation in favor of lower needs for physical safety and material comfort and neglect the higher needs for belonging, quality of life and self-expression.

However, Belk (1985), describe materialism as an “importance a consumer attaches to worldly possessions” and as personality trait which consist of three elements which are envy, nongenerosity and possessiveness. At the highest levels of materialism, such possessions assume a central place in a person’s lif and believed to provide the greater sources of satisfaction and dissatisfaction. These behaviors and traits may be the indicators of a tendency toward materialism (Shrum, et al., 2012).

.Despite of these, Richin and Dawson (1992), regard materialism as a personal or material value that is “reflected by individual’s beliefs about the importance as they obtain possessions”. It also involves the acquisition of happiness, success and centrality.

While those definitions each define materialism might in slightly vary way, but they have much in common. In broad, materialism can be considered as any excessive rely on consumer goods that to obtain the end states feeling of pleasure, heighten self esteem, higher social status and develop good interpersonal relationship (Bindah & Quah, 2012).

Level of materialism

According to Ogden and Cheng (2011) a research to determine the cultural dimension and materialism in which comparing between Canada and China, it was found that materialism level was higher in China than in Canada. The prominent dimensions of Chinese materialism were pursuit of success and happiness while Canadians were acquisition of centrality. So, the Chinese were more interested in acquiring possessions to seek happiness and show wealth while Canadians tend to think that possessions are more central to their lives. Besides, this also display that the nature of materialism varied between the cultural of the two countries especially these effect deprives from the popular view that Western leading the world in a materialistic consumer culture. According to Olivia, Tong and Wong (2012) revealed that Romanian students were the most materialistic and Swedes were the least in a cross- cultural study among 12 nations in the Europe, Asia and United States. This may be due to materialism is highest in countries which are economic dynamic and socially.

In a mean while, according to Siang and Talib (2011) an investigation of materialism attempt to examine the linkage between materialism and satisfaction of life among Malaysian undergraduates students in Malaysia have been revealed that 13.9% of undergraduates exhibited mild materialism, 70.5% indicated average materialism and remaining 15.6% reported having high materialism. In short, more than half (50%) of the participants were in the average level for the materialism. Besides, the comparison of mean scores of Material Value Scale (MVS) subscales and the materialism in undergraduate rating Possession defined success (16.97±3.417), Pursuit of Happiness (14.39±2.641) Acquisition of Centrality (14.15±2.96). This indicated that most of the participants were treated possession achievement as the basic for success.

In addition, according to Fah, Foon & Osman (2011), a study was to examine the purchasing behavior of Malaysian and its association between tendency to spend, perceived social status, advertising appeals and materialism indicated that majority of the participants were agreed that materialism is important for them to have nice things, to buy anything and will feel happier if they afford to buy more things. There are 84.2% of the participants had high level of materialism, followed by 15.0% of them and remaining 0.8% which is the only one participant had low level of materialism.

The most common purchase reported were clothing (35.6%), recreational electronics such as music player or television and active recreational equipment are consist of 13.2% (Hudders & Pandelaere, 2012). Besides, the higher materialistic level of young adults characterized as internet savvy, fashion trendsetters, receptive to new products and media influence. These young adults also describe as expecting immediate gratification and loving adventures thus they prefer action over observation, directness over subtlety and cool all else. In addition, higher in materialism level been found significantly associated with luxury purchase, compulsive buying, conspicuous consumption and high fashion involvement (Xu, 2008).

Gender and materialism

Research shows that materialism is interrelated with compulsive buying. Compulsive buyers are also materialistic people (Eren, Eroglu, & Hacioglu, 2012). Consumer research indicated that compulsive buying is associated with gender difference. It is reported that woman tend to buy symbolic and self-expressive items associated with emotional and appearance aspects of self, while men tend to impulsively purchase leisure goods and instrumental associated with activity and independence. Besides that, for woman, “either” self-concept discrepancy or high materialism is “sufficient” to develop psychological buying consideration. For men, “both” self-discrepancy or high materialism are “necessary” to generate psychological buying consideration (Mueller, Claes, Mitchell, Faber, Fischer, & de Zwaan, 2011).

On the other hand, according to Bindah and Othman (2012), there is a difference of gender in materialism. Research conducted in Malaysia noted that young female adults are more positively associated with materialistic values as compare to male adults.

In addition, according to Weaver, Moschis and Davis (2011), it is also stated that female are more likely to engage in compulsive buying as compare to male in Australia.

A number of studies have verified that male and female socialized in diverse ways and these gender differences are also obvious in consumer socialization. Furthermore, adolescents female and males are related diversely to their peers. Females propose more consumption related communication with peers. Thus, the relationship between materialism and female gender perhaps is due to how female are affected by socialization agents.

Moreover, it is also supported by Ogyden and Venkat (2001), females are tend to be more materialistic as compare to males with their higher agreement with the statement that possessions will reflect the self and rating possession as important as a self-identity.

Besides, it is obvious that woman are more likely to shop than man and seem to enjoy shopping as compare to male. In addition, women are more likely to be interested by different factor than man as part of the general impact of gender on consumer behavior. For instances, they have been display to have various attitudes toward credit and money and toward expressing love and gaining success in the home that will affect shopping behavior. Thus, higher materialism in female as compare to male also associated with shopping motivation (Goldsmith, Flynn, & Clark, 2011).

However, it appeared that female and male had considerably different evaluations about the level of materialistic values. Specifically, female adults were found to have more positive attitude toward material value as compare to male counterpart. This finding revealed that female had higher level of personal materialism in comparison to male counterpart (Cherrier and Munoz, 2007).

According to Rinaldi and Bonanomi (2011) the finding about gender and attachment to money, it is also indicating that females are tending to posses instrumentalism and materialism than male.

However, according to Olivia, Tong, and Wong (2012), a research conduct among adults students in Hong Kong show that male’s attitude toward possessing materialistic goods is higher than female. It is also supported by Achenreiner (1997), several researches reported that gender difference in males are more likely to be materialistic than female.

Moreover, in two different researches with primary to secondary school children, it was found that boys tend to be more materialistic than girls. This is due to boys placed more importance on financial success as compare with girls. Furthermore, in a comparative study of undergraduates students from three countries which is China, Mexico and USA show that, males were more likely to be materialistic than female in the Chinese sample, however there is no gender differences in USA and Mexico countries (Karabati & Cemalcilar, 2010).

According to Larsen, Sirgy and Wright (1999), males are more likely materialistic than female this is due to even when very young, girls tend to more interested in people while boys in things. Thus, this difference may related to the male tendency to value the intrinsic and instrumental function of things; and the female tendency to value the expressive and relationship-enhancing function of things.

On the other hand, a study has shown those girls are more sharing and less materialistic. For woman, they constitute a part of social relation; while male are goods aids in establishment of power. In addition, previous research with adults has stated that the closeness to mothers is negatively associated with materialism, while the closeness to father is positively associated with materialism (Flouri, 2004).

Age and Materialism

According to Wei and Talpade (2009), there are two different types of ages which are cognitive age and chronological age to compare age-related differences in consumer materialism. Cognitive age also defined as “feel age” was measured using a statement “I feel as though I am in myaˆ¦”Chronological age, expressed in days, months or years for example “how old are you?”. It is also shown that cognitive age is positively associated with materialism while chronological ages, those who “feel” older are more likely to be materialistic. Thus, age has impact on materialism.

According to John (1999), his model mentioned that there is a qualitative differences between vary age groups in their understanding of the value of possession, but do not assign whether materialism increase with age. However, a recent study failed to find an association between materialism and age in adolescents (Chan & Prendergast, 2007). Besides, according to Goldberg, Gorn, Peracchio, and Bamossy (2003), there was no difference between younger (9-11) and older (12-14) youth on materialism. Thus, age has no impact on materialism.

Meanwhile, a recent study revealed that age was a strong predictor of materialistic value. The study in Malaysia found that younger adolescence in the age group around 19 years old and below tended to be more materialistic than older counterpart in the age group at 20 to 29 years old (Bindah & Othman, 2012).

According to La Ferle and Chan (2008) also stated that older adolescents were less materialistic than younger adolescents in Singapore. In addition, when age together with the imitation of perceived peer influence and media celebrities; it is revealed 40% of the variance in materialistic values.

In addition, it is also supported by Gu and Hung (2009), adolescents in the age group of 15-19 are more materialistic while compare with age group of 40-49 which is the parent generation. It is showing that adolescents are more materialistic than the parent generation in terms of susceptibility to social influence, acquisition centrality and novelty-seeking.

Furthermore, according to Chaplin and John (2007), the self-esteem will decline dramatically at the ages of 12-13, and then rebound at late adolescence around ages 16-18. Thus, with the strong connection between self-esteem and materialism, it is proved that age related pattern in self esteem will result in age differences in materialism. The findings revealed that materialism rise from middle childhood to early adolescence and drop from early to late adolescence. So, age differences in materialism exist among adolescents and children. It also displays that early adolescents from ages of 12-13 tended to be more materialistic than younger children at the aged of 8-9. Late adolescents around ages of 16-18 found to be less materialistic than early adolescents at the aged of 12-13 (Chaplin & John, 2007).

However, according to Chan, Zhang and Wang (2006), individual will become more materialistic with age and indicate that older adolescents are tend to be more materialistic as compare to young adolescents. It is due to the result of having greater contact with those older more successful individuals who possess luxury items that as desirable status symbols. Thus, the older adolescents will look to these more successful people and use them as opinion leader and strive to emulate their consumption behaviors.

Besides, according to Flouri (2004), the studies demonstrated that the materialistic attitudes in children will increased with age perhaps due to as children age, they exposure to advertising and shopping experience and greater consumer knowledge (Flouri, 2004).

Furthermore, according to La Ferle and Chan (2008) the research also indicates that endorsement of materialistic values will diminish with age. In which materialism will obtain a maximum level in the early adolescence stage when adolescence was experienced a decline in self-esteem. By late adolescence, self -esteem will rebound and the inclination to require materialism possession for self-define will decrease as well.

Different perspectives on materialism

Life Course Model. It provides a relevant model to study human behavior, in this case which is materialism. The life course paradigm offers a contemporary approach to integrating and accommodating various perspective and theoretical perspective into a multi-dimensional theoretical framework. This model can divided into three broad categories: circumstance and event that arise at a specific point in time (T1) in a person’s life course, processes facilitated or caused by these events and the outcomes of these processes that occur at later points in time (T2)(Weaver, Moschis, & Davis, 2011).

The life course model suggests that circumstances and life-event experiences create social, emotional and physical demands in which one must adapt. As one adapts to the changing demands of his or her circumstances using coping responses, socialization, human capital development, these processes will result in their changing pattern of behavior and thought. These processes are moderated by situational variables in which consist of three possible life course perspectives which are the normative, stress and human capital (Weaver, Moschis, & Davis, 2011).

Life events/ Circumstances (T1)

Gender role

Disruptive family event

Parent ‘s educational attainment

Antecedents Processes Outcomes


Peer communication

Materialism (T2)


Perceived stress

Human Capital

Socio-oriented communication

A general conceptual life course model of materialism from Moschis, (2007).

Normative perspectives posit that individuals follow a socialization process, as a natural outcome, acquiring skills, learning and attitudes relevant to the roles as an adaption to the demands of the environment. One will learns to perform the different roles through the process of socialization, and one will gradually changes his or her identity to fit the anticipated or assumed role. Each role is communicated by socialization agents, for example, peers, parents and television programming (Benmoyal-Bouzaglo& Moschis, 2010). Studies have revealed that compulsive buying and materialism are highly correlated. It also stated female are tend to engage in compulsive buying than male. The normative perspective also attributes the prevalence of materialism in female to vary social norms that apply to male and female (Weaver, Moschis, & Davis, 2011).

Stress perspective holds that the life course is essentially a matter of striving to achieve equilibrium between positive, negative and neutral life events (stressor). In this context, individuals are constantly striving to build their own balancing (coping) strategies. These balancing efforts initially acquire more effort but over time it can be reinforced and become conditional responses that result in the development of behavioral and attitudinal orientations. The stress perspectives suggest that the perceived stressfulness in a disruptive family events are predict stronger materialistic value. Besides, family disruption will impair the self-esteem of children, and low self-esteem is a strong predictor of materialism as well (Weaver, Moschis, & Davis, 2011).

According to Roberts, Tanner, and Manolis (2005), materialism is the consequence of divorce. As compare to others from intact home, it is shown that adolescents and young adults of divorced parents will express higher levels of materialism. Moreover, it is demonstrated that children who are experiencing the disruption of their families, are more likely to place more emphasis on material possession as an effort to adjust to their new roles in a disrupted family. In addition, it has been reported that divorce will produce self-doubt in children. Thus, people may count on materialistic acquisitions for a sense of security.

Human capital perspective refers to the efforts (qualifications, skills, knowledge and resources) taken to influence future income and consumption. However, human capital is influenced by factors varying from macro level setting (e.g. culture) to micro level (e.g. family, work) settings (Moschis, Ong, Mathur, Yamashita, & Benmoyal-Bouzaglo, 2011). The development of materialistic orientation is affected by environmental factor that impede or facilitate the acquisition of human capital. Other than that, development researchers also view family as a source of human capital that can influence their children in materialistic value regarding the family communication between them (Weaver, Moschis, & Davis, 2011).

According to Chan and Prenderg

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