Shallow Materialism Caused By Low Self-Esteem?

A new study in the Journal of Consumer Research says that there may be an actual causal relationship between materialism and low self-esteem in teenagers. The study’s authors, Lan Nguyen Chaplin from the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign and Deborah Roedder John of the University of Minnesota, “studied children of different age groups and found that, generally, self-esteem increases from middle childhood (8-9 years) to early adolescence (12-13 years), but then declines during adolescence until the end of high school (16-18 years). This mirrors patterns in materialism, which increases in early adolescence but decreases in late adolescence during the transition into young adulthood,” says a press release about the study.

They also found that even a small boost in self esteem made materialism drop. “By the time children reach early adolescence, and experience a decline in self-esteem, the stage is set for the use of material possessions as a coping strategy for feelings of low self-worth.”

“Our results indicate that simple actions to raise self-esteem among young consumers can have a dramatic impact on expressions of materialism,” Chaplin and John write. “By priming high self-esteem, we reversed the large drop in self-esteem experienced by early adolescents, thereby reducing the steep rise in materialism among this group.”

Although this study applies only to teenagers, it leads us to suspect that expensive handbags really are the mark of insecurity (rather than wealth) that we always thought they were. Unless you really are super rich and fabulous, give yourself a hug and buy a cheaper purse. We love you for you.

In Children And Adolescents, Low Self-esteem Increases Materialism
[Science Daily via Digg]


Edit Your Comment

  1. newlywed says:

    LOL. I work a lot with teens and pretty much agree with this. The kids whose parents instill real values and self-importance in them don’t need all of that crap, while the ones who have all of the expensive gear use that to validate themselves. Sad, really.

  2. I’m good enough, I’m smart enough, and doggone it, people like me!

    But they’d probably like me better if I had a video iPod …

  3. jamesdenver says:

    From an adult POV maybe it’s your friends too. If you hang out with people that treat shopping as entertainment and a regular pastime – then time to get new friends.

    But yeah I’m confident, happy, have a good job – and I bike to work, own a managable size home, and constantly judge my wants versus needs.

    So my co-workers think I’m poor because I take the bus to work? They don’t know my bank account.

    If you live your life to impress other people than you’ll constantly be struggling.

  4. EvilConservative says:

    Taken at a national level this also makes sense. A country beset by “blame America first” liberalism also has a national-level self-esteem problem. Makes sense that that would translate into a national obsession with materialism and consumerism. Individually it translates into overindulging in “comfort foods” creating yet another self-esteem issue.

  5. Skiffer says:


    The Consumerist loves me!

    But….maybe they’d love me more if I bought one of their nifty t-shirts…

  6. Meg Marco says:

    @Skiffer: It’s not possible for us to love you more, silly.

  7. wezelboy says:

    @EvilConservative: Don’t be blaming “liberals” for a malaise on the national level. Last I checked, there was a “conservative” in the White House.

  8. chili_dog says:

    Dam, I bought a 56″ plasma for the impressive size and ability to not go to the movie theater any more. And all along it was because of low self-esteem.
    My name is Chili_Dog and I am a self-hating materialistic whore.

  9. kimsama says:

    @jamesdenver: Man, you are so right. Only people who don’t have money in the bank and who don’t have self confidence need to go out of their way to plaster themselves with symbols of their “awesomeness” and “richness.” If you know you have it, there’s no need to try to fake it to others.

  10. UpsetPanda says:

    There is something to be said about a bit of materialism…If you don’t have the newest or coolest toys, it’s very possible that your friends are going to want to go to someone else’s house more. Sometimes it’s the fact that someone has a larger TV, or you can fit more people into that other house…if you don’t have cable, no one’s going to want to come over to watch the big game….so putting value on material goods isn’t exactly a bad thing, it’s just that some people go overboard when they start determining that their own personal self value is based on which TV the football game looks better on. Cause if you’re a crappy friend, the TV won’t matter anymore.

  11. QuantumRiff says:

    Man, back in my day (only a decade ago), we used conformity to express our individuality and self esteem. You know, “I want to get my nose pierced, so I can look different, just like all my friends!”

  12. ShortBus says:

    @CaffeinatedSquint: Fine my me. I’ll let my friends worry about the monthly payment for the plasma TV and having to vacuum the pretzel crumbs our of the couch once a week. Sounds like a fair deal in exchange for an occasional six of Coors Light.

  13. oldtaku says:

    As long as it’s not fake self-esteem (looking at you public schools). That just results in more bullies and criminals on the back end, even if they are less materialistic.

  14. HrPingui says:

    The real problem here is that they are charging you $$ 1.49, for adding some enchilada sauce to your burrito, any half-decent restaurant would do that for free if you ask!

  15. Crazytree says:

    all goes back to the old story about men who drive sports cars.

  16. ahwannabe says:
  17. vinoth2vinoth says:

    The research was conducted based on a small group of teenagers, how can we trust this? We can’t say all the the teenagers are same.

    White Sundress