Materialism and Childhood Satisfaction: a Social Structural Analysis

Aric Rindfleisch, University of Arizona
James E. Burroughs, Rutgers University
ABSTRACT - Materialism has emerged as a central issue among consumer researchers. One of the most consistent findings in the extant literature is that a materialistic lifestyle is associated with unhappy and unsatisfied lives. However, a small but growing number of studies have begun to question the generalizability of this finding. In this paper, we seek to enrich understanding of the nature of the relationship between material values and life satisfaction. Specifically, we report the results of a study which investigates the role of family structure as a moderator of the relationship between materialism and childhood satisfaction. Our findings suggest that whie materialism is negatively associated with childhood satisfaction for individuals from intact family structures, materialism is positively associated with childhood satisfaction for individuals from disrupted family structures. Using these findings as a springboard, we suggest a new theoretical lens for viewing the relationship between materialism and well being.
[ to cite ]:
Aric Rindfleisch and James E. Burroughs (1999) ,"Materialism and Childhood Satisfaction: a Social Structural Analysis", in NA - Advances in Consumer Research Volume 26, eds. Eric J. Arnould and Linda M. Scott, Provo, UT : Association for Consumer Research, Pages: 519-526.

Advances in Consumer Research Volume 26, 1999      Pages 519-526

MATERIALISM AND CHILDHOOD SATISFACTION: A SOCIAL STRUCTURAL ANALYSIS

Aric Rindfleisch, University of Arizona

James E. Burroughs, Rutgers University

ABSTRACT -

Materialism has emerged as a central issue among consumer researchers. One of the most consistent findings in the extant literature is that a materialistic lifestyle is associated with unhappy and unsatisfied lives. However, a small but growing number of studies have begun to question the generalizability of this finding. In this paper, we seek to enrich understanding of the nature of the relationship between material values and life satisfaction. Specifically, we report the results of a study which investigates the role of family structure as a moderator of the relationship between materialism and childhood satisfaction. Our findings suggest that whie materialism is negatively associated with childhood satisfaction for individuals from intact family structures, materialism is positively associated with childhood satisfaction for individuals from disrupted family structures. Using these findings as a springboard, we suggest a new theoretical lens for viewing the relationship between materialism and well being.

"Goods are neutral, their uses are social; they can be used as fences or bridges"

CDouglas and Isherwood 1996, p. xv

INTRODUCTION

One of the central issues concerning consumer research is the nature of the relationship between consumers and the objects they consume. Researchers interested in consumer-object relationships have produced an impressive volume of work which suggests that certain types or patterns of consumption may be dysfunctional to both the individual and society. These harmful forms of consumption have been labeled the "dark side" of consumer behavior (Hirschman 1991). Much of this "dark-side" research has centered around the concept of materialism, which has been defined as a "set of centrally held beliefs about the importance of possessions in one’s life" (Richins and Dawson 1992, p. 308). In other words, materialism can be viewed as the value a consumer places on the acquisition and possession of material objects. Over the past 15 years, a number of researchers have found that materialistic values are negatively associated with life satisfaction and happiness (e.g., Belk 1985; Fournier and Richins 1991; Richins 1987; Richins and Dawson 1992). This negative association between materialism and well-being has also been presumed by several social commentators and critics of consumer culture (e.g., Pollay 1986; Schudson 1984; Scitovsky 1976).

In recent years, a small but growing number of researchers have begun to question the generalizability of materialism’s negative impact on consumer well-being. For example, recent research by Mick (1996) finds that many of the negative outcomes associated with a materialistic orientation are substantially attenuated after controlling for social desirability. Likewise, cross-cultural research by Ger and Belk (1996) suggests that materialism may have positive connotations in developing nations such as Romania and Turkey. In addition, consumer researchers have theorized that material objects often enhance consumer well-being through their symbolic (Levy 1981), hedonic (Holbrook and Hirschman 1982), and functional (Bettman 1979) qualities. For example, as Belk, Wallendorf, and Sherry (1989) suggest, material objects often exhibit sacred qualities and can be used by consumers to achieve transcendent states. The assumption that materialism reflects the "dark side" of consumer behavior has recently been scrutinized by Holt (1998), who suggests that cultural elites (i.e., "Idealists") denigrate materialists by portraying them as vulgar, gaudy, and unrefined in order to reinforce "exclusionary class boundaries" (p. 20). In sum, the impact of materialism on consumer well-being appears to be complex and enigmatic.

This tension between the positive and negative influence of material objects and the values that consumers place on them has been recognized by Belk (1985), who identified this concern as "one of the first and foremost issues involving materialism" (Belk 1985,p. 266). Likewise, Richins and Dawson (1992), call for research that investigates "the positive effects of materialism as well as the negative ones more frequently mentioned in the literature" (p. 314). In this paper, we seek to partly answer this call. Specifically, we hope to enrich the materialism literature by exploring the moderating impact of family structure on the relationship between materialism and satisfaction with one’s childhood. In addition to its relevance to the study of materialism, our focus on the moderating effects of family structure also provides a conceptual extension to the growing literature on the relationship between social structure and consumer behavior (e.g, Chin 1998; Holt 1998).

LITERATURE REVIEW AND HYPOTHESES DEVELOPMENT

Materialism and Well-being

The Negative Relationship Between Materialism and Well-Being: One of the central issues surrounding materialism is its relation to personal well-being, life satisfaction, and happiness. To date, a substantial body of research in both consumer behavior and psychology suggests that highly materialistic individuals appear to be less happy (an affective indicant of well-being) and more unsatisfied (a cognitive indicant of well-being) with their lives compared to individuals with lower levels of materialism. Early evidence of the relationship between materialism and well-being was provided by Belk (1984, 1985), who associated materialism with such undesirable traits as nongenerosity, envy, and greed, and found that these three traits have a significant negative correlation with both happiness and life satisfaction. As Belk puts it, these traits can "be pathological and can lead to human misery rather than happiness" (1985, p. 266). In developing a theoretical explanation for this negative association between materialism and well-being, Belk (1985) suggests that materialism may lead to an increasing escalation of wants in which individuals need progressively more expensive material possessions in order to sustain a given level of happiness and satisfaction.

Belk’s findings have been extended and enriched in a series of studies by Richins and her colleagues (e.g., Fournier and Richins 1991; Richins 1987; Richins and Dawson 1992). These studies also find evidence of a negative relationship between materialism and well-being. However, in contrast to Belk’s view of materialism as a trait, Richins and her colleagues view materialism and a value that is centrally held. In her 1987 study of material values, Richins finds that "more materialistic people are more dissatisfied with their standard of living than less materialistic people" (p. 355). In developing an explanation for this finding, Richins uses adaptation theory (Brickman and Campbell 1971) and suggests that highly materialistic individuals have higher expectation levels, and thus a larger gap between their current and desired states compared to individuals with low levels of material values.

Building on this earlier study, Richins and Dawson (1992) develop a material values scale and find that material values are negatively correlated with multiple measures of life satisfaction. However, they note that since their study is correlational, causality is uncertain and the relationship between materialism and life satisfaction may be bi-directional. In line with Belk’s (1984, 1985) conceptualization, they suggest that materialism may be detrimental to the attainment o life satisfaction because highly materialistic individuals may develop an insatiable lust for material objects which can never be fulfilled.

In perhaps the most comprehensive theoretical discussion of the relationship between materialism and well-being, Fournier and Richins (1991) compare materialism to drug addiction and suggest that highly materialistic individuals develop a need for "larger and larger doses of consumption to maintain happiness" (p. 406). In addition to this escalation hypothesis, Fournier and Richins also cite adaptation theory and suggest that the gap between materialistic individuals’ current and desired states produced unhappiness. As a third explanation, they turn to Frommian psychology and note that materialism may result in dissatisfaction if a highly materialistic individual attempts to use relationships with objects as a replacement for interpersonal relationships.

The psychological connection between materialism and well-being has received indirect support in the psychology literature, as Kasser and Ryan (1993) find that individuals who seek financial success as a life aspiration report lower levels of psychological adjustment and well-being. Drawing on Maslow’s (1970) hierarchy of needs, Kasser and Ryan explain their findings by suggesting that "individuals aspiring for wealth may be more likely to focus on contingent, external goals and fleeting superficial satisfactions unrelated to inherent needs. Consequently, they may ignore or be distracted from the intrinsic actualizing and integrating tendencies that support personality growth and well-being" (p. 420). In sum, these studies collectively suggest that materialism is negatively related to consumer well-being because a materialistic orientation may lead to (1) an escalation of increasing wants, (2) a large gap between current and desired states, and (3) a focus on objects instead of people.

Moderators of the Relationship Between Materialism and Well-Being: At first glance, the extant literature appears to provide considerable support for the notion that materialism is negatively associated with well-being. However, upon closer inspection, the relationship between materialism and well-being appears more tenuous. For example, while Fournier and Richins (1991) provide a compelling treatise on the potential negative influences of material values, they do not empirically assess any of their conceptual arguments regarding the impact of materialism on well-being (however, they do provide an empirical assessment of popular notions of materialism). Moreover, although Richins (1987) finds that material values are negatively correlated with life satisfaction, she also finds that material satisfaction is positively correlated with life satisfaction.

The most compelling evidence against the long-standing notion that materialism is negatively associated with well-being comes from a number of recent studies which have explored potential moderating influences of this relationship. These studies suggest that the relationship between materialism and well-being is complex in nature and may be negative only under particular circumstances. For example, in his recent study of the impact of social desirability bias on materialism, Mick (1996) finds that the negative relationship between material values and neuroticism is moderated by social desirability bias. After accounting for this bias, the impact of material values on neuroticism becomes nonsignificant.

In addition to the role of social desirability bias, the materialism-well-being relationship also appears to be at least partially moderated by an individual’s religious orientation. For example, LaBarbera and Gurhan (1997) find a nonsignificant relationship between nongenerosity (one of Belk’s materialism subscales) and subjective well-being. However, upon further analysis, they find that this relationship is moderated by their respondents’ religious orietation. Specifically, they find that while nongenerosity is negatively related to well-being for born-again Christians, nongenerosity and well-being are actually positively related among non-born-again Christians.

LaBarbera and Gurhan’s findings regarding the moderating role of born-again Christianity is congruent with recent research by Burroughs and Rindfleisch (1997) regarding the role of family structure as a moderator of the relationship between materialism and family stress. They find that while materialism is positively associated with family stress for children from intact families, material values and family stress are negatively related for children from disrupted families. As an explanation for their findings, Burroughs and Rindfleisch assert that young adults from disrupted families may rely on material objects as a means of coping with the stress associated with family disruption. Both of these studies suggest that the relationship between materialism and well-being may be moderated by various social structural factors such as religious orientation or family composition. Building off of these earlier efforts, this current study focuses on the moderating impact of family structure on the relationship between materialism and childhood satisfaction.

The Moderating Role of Family Structure

A large volume of research in family sociology suggests that the life experiences of children reared in families disrupted by divorce or permanent separation are qualitatively different than the experiences of children reared in intact two-parent families. For example, compared to children of intact families, children reared in disrupted families are more likely to experience academic difficulties, juvenile delinquency, teenage pregnancy, and drug and alcohol problems (see Stevenson and Black 1996 for a recent review of this literature). In a consumer behavior context, recent research by Rindfleisch, Burroughs, and Denton (1997) finds that individuals reared in disrupted families exhibit higher levels of material values and compulsive consumption compared to individuals reared in intact families. In addition to the apparent differences in life outcomes between these two groups, the nature of the parent-child relationship also appears to be substantially different among children reared in intact versus disrupted families.

Family Disruption and Parental Relations: After the divorce or separation of their parents, the vast majority of American children remain in the custody of their mothers (Stevenson and Black 1996). Most mothers experience a substantial drop in household income following their divorce and often have to find a second job and/or move to a cheaper residence in order to make ends meet (McLanahan and Booth 1989). In general, the first couple of years after a family disruption are marked by a number of unpredictable changes and children experience a "chaotic lifestyle" marked by shifting household routines, inconsistent discipline, and erratic meals and bedtimes (Cherlin 1992). Despite all of these stressful changes, research suggests that the quality of the mother-child relationship in disrupted families is similar to that in intact families within one year after a divorce (Rosenthal, Leigh, and Elardo 1985).

Immediately following a divorce or separation, most children have contact with their father on a fairly regular basis. However, as time goes by, non-custodial fathers see their children less andless. It is widely estimated that half of all children in disrupted families see their father less than once a year (Seltzer and Bianchi 1988). As would be expected, this lack of father contact is a source of great distress for many children (Stevenson and Black 1996).

In addition to its stressful impact on children, the non-custodial father-child relationship can also be quite stressful for fathers. As Fox (1985) notes, many non-custodial fathers feel tremendously guilty about both their divorce as well as their infrequent contact with their children. Arendell (1995) finds that non-custodial fathers often feel a sense of unease when visiting their children and lack "a base of developed and maintained intimacy from which to draw" (p. 153). As a means of resolving this guilt and coping with their unease, when non-custodial fathers visit their children they often play the role of tour guide or Santa Claus, and take their children to shopping malls and amusement parks. For example, in their well-known clinical longitudinal study of 60 divorced families, Wallerstein and Kelly (1980) find that:

... at least one-third of the men were unusually generous to their children, plying them with special treats or money. Playing Santa Claus helped them with their discomfort about what to do and enabled them to deal with guilt about the divorce by making restitutions with generous gifts" (p. 124).

Materialism as a Coping Mechanism: Compensatory gift giving by non-custodial fathers appears to play a role in socializing children in disrupted families to develop higher levels of material values compared to children from intact families (Rindfleisch, Burroughs, and Denton 1997). In addition to the socializing effects of growing up in a family disrupted by divorce or permanent separation, children in disrupted families may also develop material values and focus on material objects as a means of coping with the stress and uncertainty associated with family disruption. As noted earlier, Burroughs and Rindfleisch (1997) find that material objects appear to play an instrumental role in helping children cope with the stresses of family disruption by providing them with a source of control, permanence, and identity in their lives.

The functional role of material objects as a mechanism for coping with stressful life events has received considerable support in both the consumer research (e.g., Kleine, Kleine, and Allen 1995; McAlexander, Schouten, and Roberts 1993) and family sociology (e.g., An, Haveman, and Wolfe 1993; Stirtzinger and Colvat 1990) literature. By providing a means to manage the stress associated with the disruption of their families, material objects and materialistic values may actually provide children with a sense of well-being and higher levels of satisfaction and happiness. For example, Stirtzinger and Colvat (1990) find that preschool children who have high levels of attachment to material objects display better behavioral adjustment to divorce compared to children who have low levels of material object attachment.

Having Objects Versus Relating to Parents: In addition to the potential ability of material values to increase well-being by helping children cope with the stress associated with family disruption, materialism might also be positively associated with well-being among children from disrupted families if a family disruption serves to shift the relative importance they place on material objects vis-a-vis interpersonal relationships. As noted earlier, Fournier and Richins (1991) suggest that materialism might lead to dissatisfaction if highly materialistic individuals attempt to use materil objects as a surrogate for interpersonal relationships. This hypothesis presupposes that interpersonal relationships are inherently more capable of need satisfaction than person-object relationships. While this assumption is based on well-known psychological theories of need satisfaction (e.g., Fromm 1976; Maslow 1970), its generalizability may be limited. The family sociology and developmental psychology literature suggest that material objects may be able to effectively serve as at least a partial replacement for interpersonal relationships among children whose families have been disrupted by divorce or permanent separation.

One of the most robust findings among family disruption researchers is that divorce or permanent separation dramatically alters the nature of a child’s relationship with his or her parents (Heatherington 1989; Stevenson and Black 1996). As noted earlier, following the disruption of their family, children are typically faced with both an overworked and overstressed mother and a largely absentee father. These changes in family structure lead to changes in family processes, as children reared in disrupted families experience more permissive parenting and less parental warmth and tenderness compared to children reared in intact families (Kurdek and Fine 1993). As noted by Heatherington (1989), many children react to these changes by becoming emotionally disengaged from their parents and other family members.

As children in disrupted families weaken their emotional ties to parents and relatives, they may turn to material objects to fill this void. In his comprehensive review of well-being among Americans, Campbell (1981) finds that our sense of well-being depends on the satisfaction of three basic types of needs: (1) The need for having, (2) the need for relating, and (3) the need for being. Moreover, he claims that the satisfaction of each of these three needs "can contribute independently to the individual’s sense of well-being" (p. 7). In other words, he suggests that well-being can be at least partially achieved by satisfying our need for having material objects. In fact, Campell (1981) concludes that "Having the material necessities of life is surely the first requirement of a life of well-being" (p. 224).

Campbell’s need classification scheme bears a close resemblance to Belk’s (1988) conceptualization of the role of possessions in extending the self through having, doing, and being. The distinction between having, doing, and being has been thoroughly explored by Sartre (1956), who suggests that person-object relationships may serve as a psychological surrogate for interpersonal relationships. Or as Sartre puts it, "Through possession I recover an object-being identical with my being-for-others" (p. 492). Considering this dialectic relationship between having and being, we suggest that material objects may be positively associated with satisfaction among persons reared in disrupted families, as they lessen their need for interpersonal relations and enhance their need for having material objects.

In sum, the family sociology literature (and related work in consumer research) suggests that children reared in families disrupted by divorce or permanent separation may effectively employ material objects as both a surrogate for interpersonal relationships and as a means of coping with the stress associated with the disruption of their family. Thus, although material values may be negatively associated with satisfaction among individuals from intact families, material values may be positively associated with satisfaction for individuals from disrupted families. In other words, family structure appears to moderate the relationship between materialism and satisfaction. As reviewed earlier, the literature reveals that family disruption has a much greater impact on an individual’s relationship with his or her father than his or her mother. Therefore, we expect that the moderating impact of family structure will have a greater influence on an individual’s satisfaction with his or her father than his or her mother. Based on this preceding review of the literature, we offer the following hypotheses:

H1: The impact of materialism on childhood satisfaction with (a) one’s father, and (b) one’s mother is moderated by family structure. While materialism will be negatively related to satisfaction for individuals from intact families, materialism will be positively related to satisfaction for individuals from disrupted families.

H2: The moderating influence of family structure will have a stronger effect on father-related satisfaction than mother-related satisfaction.

TABLE 1

KEY MEASURE STATISTICS

METHOD

Subjects

The subjects for this study were young adults (age 20-32) from the Madison, Wisconsin metropolitan area. As an initial means of data collection, we mailed our survey instrument to 557 young adults randomly selected from a commercial mailing list. Of these 557 surveys, 23 were returned as undeliverable, leaving an effective sampling frame of 534 potential respondents. Among the surveys delivered, 138 were returned, for a 26% response rate. After eliminating three surveys due to incomplete information, we were left with an effective sample size of 135 subjects (31 of whom were from disrupted families).

As a means of increasing our sample size, we undertook a second data collection effort. Specifically, we placed two separate ads in the Sunday edition of a local newspaper, asking for individuals between the ages of 20 to 30 to fill out a survey as part of an unspecified university research project. The two ads were identical with the exception that one ad targeted individuals from disrupted family backgrounds while the other targeted individuals from intact family backgrounds. As an incentive to respond, subjects in both groups were offered $5 in return for their participation. From these two ads, we mailed out another 139 surveys, out of which 131 were returned for a 94% response rate. Five of the returned surveys were eliminated due to missing responses, leaving us with an effective sample size of 126 subjects (65 of whom were from disrupted families) recruited from the ads.

As a means of guarding against the possibility that our two different data collection methods introduced a method artifact, we examined the means and variances for each of our key measures (for both the intact and disrupted groups) across our two sampling approaches. Finding no significant differences in either means or variances, these two sampling methods (i.e., mail survey and newspaper ad) were combined for analysis. Thus, we conducted our analysis on the combined sample. Of our 261 subjects, 64% were female, 91% were white, and the mean age was 26.

Measurement

Our survey instrument contained measures of materialism, family structure, satisfaction with the relationship with one’s mother (i.e., Satisfaction-Mother) and satisfaction with the relationship with one’s father (i.e., Satisfaction-Father). In addition, our survey included a battery of demographic variables. Satisfaction-Mother was measured by asking subjects to rate how satisfied they are with "The quality of the relationship between you and your mother" up until their 18th birthday. Satisfaction-Father was measured by asking subjects to rate how satisfied they are with "The amount of contact between you and your father" up until their 18th birthday. We measured materialism using Richins and Dawson’s (1992) Material Values scale. This scale demonstrated good reliability (alpha=.86). All three of these measures (i.e., Satisfaction-Mother, Satisfaction-Father, and Material Values) were assessed using five-point Likert-type scales, where 1=low and 5=high. Family structure was measured by asking subjects whether or not they lived with both parents up until the age of 18, and if not, the reason why. Subjects who reported that their parents divorced or permanently separated were classified as being from a "disrupted" family. The summary statistics for these measures are provided in Table 1. For further details regarding our subjects and measures, see Rindfleisch, Burroughs, and Denton (1997).

Analysis

To test our hypotheses of the moderating role of family structure on the relationship between materialism and childhood satisfaction, we conducted two separate hierarchical regression analyses (HRA). The first HRA, tested the moderating impact of family structure on subject’s satisfaction with their father, while the second HRA tested the moderating impact of family structure on subject’s satisfaction with their mother. According to Cohen and Cohen (1983), HRA is the most appropriate statistical test for examining moderators which produce differences in the form of the relationship between a predictor and a criterion variable. In HRA, the independent variables are entered first followed by the product term for their interaction. A moderating effect is indicated by the presence of a statistically significant two-way interaction.

TABLE 2

TEST OF THE MODERATING EFFECTS OF FAMILY STRUCTURE

Following the recommendation of Cronbach (1987), the independent variables (i.e., family structure and material values) were mean-centered to reduce their collinearity with their interaction terms. In addition to our two predictor variables, each HRA also included subject’s gender and the perceived financial status of their childhood household as control measures. These two control variables were included because the family sociology literature suggests that the impact of family structure varies according to both gender and socioeconomic status (Cherlin 1992; Stevenson and Black 1996). The results of our analyses are presented in Table 2. These results indicate a significant moderating effect (b=.121, p-.026) of family structure on the relationship between materialism and subject’s satisfaction with their father. Thus H1a is supported. However, our results suggest that that family structure does not moderate (b=.030, p-.615) the relationship between materialism and subject’s satisfaction with their mother. Thus, H1b is not supported. Because H1a is supported, while H1b is not supported, H2 is supported by default.

To better understand the nature of the moderating influence offamily structure upon the relationship between materialism and subject’s satisfaction with their father, we examined the interaction of family structure and material values. Specifically, we conducted a median split to divide materialism into a low and a high group for both intact and disrupted subjects. As shown in Figure 1, while materialism is negatively associated with father satisfaction for subjects from intact families (low materialism=4.06, high materialism=3.63, t=-2.42, p-.02), materialism and father satisfaction are positively related among subjects from disrupted families (low materialism=2.05, high materialism=2.60, t=1.90, p-.06). In sum, our analysis suggests that family structure moderates the relationship between materialism and satisfaction with the relationship with one’s father. While this moderated effect may appear modest at first glance, its effect size is quite large compared to most studies attempting to find interactions using measured variables (McClelland and Judd 1993). As noted by McClelland and Judd (1993), moderated effects which explain as little as 1 percent of total variance should be considered important.

DISCUSSION

Our findings suggest that the relationship between materialism and well-being is moderated by an individual’s social structure. Although the influence of social structure has been documented by a number of consumer researchers (e.g., Hill and Stamey 1990; Moschis and Churchill 1978), our study represents the first systematic investigation of the role of social structure in the materialism literature. We find that childhood family structure moderates the relationship between materialism and satisfaction with one’s father. Specifically, while materialism is negatively related to father satisfaction for individuals from intact families, materialism and father satisfaction are positively related among individuals from families disrupted by divorce or permanent separation. Conversely, there appears to be no moderating effect of family structure on the relationship between materialism and mother satisfaction. Our finding that family structure has a larger influence on father-related satisfaction than mother-related satisfaction is congruent with findings in the family sociology literature which suggest that the father-child relationship is more variable across alternative family structures compared to the relationship between mother and child (e.g., LeCroy 1988; Seltzer and Bianchi 1988).

Although preliminary, our findings suggest that the relationship between materialism and individual well-being is complex, and that materialism may actually be positively associated with well-being under particular social-structural conditions. As consumer researchers begin to reconsider the impact of materialism on consumer satisfaction and happiness, there appears to be a need for a new theoretical lens (Holt 1998). As documented in our literature review, current theoretical perspectives do not allow for the potential positive impact of materialism on individual well-being.

As a means of developing a new theoretical understanding of the relationship between materialism and well-being, we believe that consumer researchers should examine the relationship between material values and social structure. In our study, we focus on the relationship between material values and family structure. As noted earlier, following a family disruption, a child’s relationship with his or her father is typically marked by the use of material objects as a replacement for father contat (Arendell 1995). In Sarte’s (1956) terms, these children experience a life shift from an emphasis on doing to an emphasis on having. Thus, highly materialistic individuals reared in disrupted families may report higher levels of satisfaction with their father because their material values (i.e., emphasis on having) are congruent with their family experience (i.e., emphasis on having). Conversely, highly materialistic individuals reared in intact families may report lower levels of satisfaction with their fathers because their material values (i.e., emphasis on having) are incongruent with their family experience (i.e., emphasis on doing).

FIGURE 1

INTERACTION OF FAMILY STRUCTURE AND MATERIAL VALUES   (SATISFACTION--FATHER)

The notion that the impact of materialism on well-being is dependent on the congruency between an individual’s value orientation and his or her life situation (i.e., social structure) can be conceptually linked to the Heider’s (1958) balance theory. According to balance theory, harmony is achieved when an individual balances internal states of being with external experiences. We suggest that when material values are inconsistent with external states, individuals are out of balance and their sense of well-being is threatened. In contrast, when an individual’s internalized material values are consistent with his or her external experiences, there is balance, harmony, and ultimately, a sense of well-being.

Although our findings are congruent with recent research (e.g., Burroughs and Rindfleisch 1997; Mick 1996; LaBarbera and Gurhan 1997), the generalizability of these findings are uncertain due to method-related limitations. First of all, our sample is non-representative, as the vast majority of our subjects were white and middle class. Family sociologists find that impact of alternative family structures is often moderated by ethnicity and socioeconomic status. For example, Stevenson and Fine (1996) note that African-American children appear to be more able to cope with the stress of family disruption compared to white children. Thus, the implications of our findings need to be tested among other socio-cultural groups. As seen in our measurement discussion, our two dependent variables (i.e., Satisfaction-Father and Satisfaction-Mother) are based on single-item measures. Also, our measures of subjects’ satisfaction with their parents assess different aspects of the parent-child relationship, and are not directly comparable. Specifically, while our measure of mother satisfaction focuses on the quality of subjects’ relationship with their mother, our measure of father satisfaction emphasizes the quantity of subject’s contact with their father. This quality versus quantity distinction was purposive, as the family sociology literature indicates that, following the disruption of their family, children typically face a slight decrease in the quality of their relationship with their mother and a marked decrease in the quantity of contact with their father. These measurement-related limitations make it difficult to assess the reliability and validity of our measures of childhood satisfaction.

As a means of addressing these limitations and enhancing our understanding of the impact of social structural influences on materialism and well-being, there are many opportunities for future research. As an immediate extension to our research, we suggest that consumer researchers should explore the moderating role of family structure for other socio-cultural groups such as African-Americans. Recent research by Chin (1998) suggests that the conditions of social inequality facing young African-Americans has an dramatic influence on both their consumption values and their quality of life. These sweeping effects of social inequality may serve to attenuate or accentuate the moderating impact of family structure among African-American adolescents and young adults.

Future investigations should strive to enhance our measurement approach by employing multi-item measures of subjects’ current state of well-being. Ideally, these future measurement efforts should also employ separate measures of happiness and life satisfaction (see Andrews and Robinson 1991), as these two constructs have been shown to be related but dstinct components of overall psychological well-being (Campbell 1976). In addition, future research efforts should include a measure of social desirability as a means of controlling for this potential source of bias (Mick 1996). As a conceptual extension to our work, we encourage future research into the impact of other manifestations of social structure. For example, in their recent cross-cultural study of materialism, Ger and Belk (1996) find that Americans are "apt to see materialism as excessive and as a weakness," while Romanians and Turks "see materialism as an empowering and self-enhancing expression of control and freedom" (p. 63). Thus, culture may be another moderator of the relationship between materialism and individual well-being.

In sum, our study offers preliminary evidence that social structural factors such as one’s family, religion, and culture may influence the impact of materialism on well-being. We suggest that for some individuals, materialism leads to dissatisfaction because their social conditions are incongruent with their level of material values. In contrast, materialism may lead to more positive end states among those whose social conditions and material values share congruency. The validity of this new theoretical perspective awaits further conceptual development and empirical verification.

REFERENCES

An, Chong-Bum, Robert Haveman, and Barbara Wolfe (1993), "Teen Out-of-Wedlock Births and Welfare Receipt: The Role of Childhood Events and Economic Circumstances," Review of Economics and Statistics, 75 (May), 195-208.

Andrews, Frank M. and John P. Robinson (1991), "Measures of Subjective Well-Being," in Measures Personality and Social Psychological Attitudes, Vol. 1, John P. Robinson, Phillip R. Shaver, and Lawrence S. Wrightsman, eds. San Diego: Academic Press, 61-114.

Arendell, Terry (1995), Fathers & Divorce. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

Belk, Russell W. (1988), "Possessions and the Extended Self," Journal of Consumer Research, 15 (September), 139-168.

Belk, Russell W. (1985), "Materialism: Trait Aspects of Living in the Material World," Journal of Consumer Research, 12 (December), 265-280.

Belk, Russell W. (1984), "Three Scales to Measure Constructs Related to Materialism: Reliability, Validity, and Relationships to Measures of Happiness," in Advances in Consumer Research, 11, Thomas Kinnear, ed. Provo, UT: Association for Consumer Research, 291-297.

Belk, Russell W., Melanie Wallendorf, and John F. Sherry, Jr. (1989), "The Sacred and the Profane in Consumer Behavior: Theodicy on the Odyssey," Journal of Consumer Research, 16 (June), 1-38.

Bettman, James R. (1979), An Information Processing Theory of Consumer Choice. Reading, MA: Addison-Wesley.

Brickman, Philip and Donald T. Campbell (1971), "Hedonic Relativism and Planning the Good Society," in Adaptation-Level Theory: A Symposium, M. H. Appley, ed. New York: Academic Press, 287-302.

Burroughs, James E. and Aric Rindfleisch (1997), "Materialism as a Coping Mechanism: An Inquiry Into Family Disruption," in Advances in Consumer Research, 24, Debbie MacInnis and Merrie Brucks, eds. Provo, UT: Association for Consumer Research, 89-97.

Campbell, Angus (1981), The Sense of Well-Being in America: Recent Patterns and TrendsNew York: McGraw-Hill.

Cherlin, Andrew (1992), Marriage, Divorce, Remarriage. Revised edition. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Chin, Elizabeth (1998), "Social Inequality and the Context of Consumption: Local Groceries and Downtown Stores," in ServiceScapes, John F. Sherry, Jr., ed. Chicago: NTC Business Books.

Cohen, Jacob and Patricia Cohen (1983), Applied Multiple Regression/Correlational Analysis for the Behavioral Sciences, 2nd ed. Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum.

Cronbach, Lee J. (1987), "Statistical Tests for Moderator Variables: Flaws in Analyses Recently Proposed," Psychological Bulletin, 102 (3), 414-417.

Douglas, Mary and Baron Isherwood (1996), The World of Goods: Toward an Anthropology of Consumption. London: Routledge.

Fournier, Susan and Marsha L. Richins (1991), "Some Theoretical and Popular Notions Concerning Materialism," Journal of Social Behavior and Personality, 6 (Special Issue), 403-414.

Fox, Greer Litton (1985), "Noncustodial Fathers," in Dimensions of Fatherhood, Shirley M. Hanson and Frederick W. Bozett, eds. Beverly Hills, CA: Sage, 393-415.

Fromm, Erich (1976), To Have or To Be? New York: Harper and Row.

Ger, Guliz and Russell W. Belk (1996), "Cross-Cultural Differences in Materialism," Journal of Economic Psychology, 17, 55-77.

Heatherington, E. Mavis (1989), "Coping with Family Transitions: Winners, Loser, and Survivors," Child Development, 60, 1-14.

Heider, Fritz (1958), The Psychology of Interpersonal Relations. New York: Wiley.

Hill, Ronald Paul and Mark Stamey (1990), "The Homeless in America: An Examination of Possessions and Consumption Behaviors," Journal of Consumer Research, 9 (December), 303-321.

Hines, Alice M. (1997), "Divorce-Related Transitions, Adolescent Development, and the Role of the Parent-Child Relationship: A Review of the Literature," Journal of Marriage and the Family, 59 (May), 375-388.

Hirschman, Elizabeth C. (1991), "Secular Mortality and the Dark Side of Consumer Behavior: Or How Semiotics Saved my Life," in Advances in Consumer Research, 18, Michael Solomon and Rebecca Holman, ed. Provo, UT: Association for Consumer Research, 1-4.

Holbrook, Morris B. and Elizabeth C. Hirschman (1982), "The Experiential Aspects of Consumption: Consumer Fantasies, Feeling, and Fun," Journal of Consumer Research, 9 (September), 132-140.

Holt, Douglas B. (1998), "Does Cultural Capital Structure American Consumption?" Journal of Consumer Research, 25 (June), 1-25.

Kasser, Tim and Richard M. Ryan (1993),"A Dark Side of the American Dream: Correlates of Financial Success as a Central Life Aspiration," Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 65 (2), 410-422.

Kleine, Susan Schultze, Robert E. Kleine III, and Chris T. Allen (1995), "How is a Possession #Me’ or "Not Me’? Characterizing Types and an Antecedent of Material Possession Attachment," Journal of Consumer Research, 22 (December), 327-343.

Kurdek, Lawrence and Mark A. Fine (1993), "The Relation Between Family Structure and Young Adolescents’ Appraisals of Family Climate and Parenting Behavior," Journal of Family Issues, 14 (June), 279-290.

LaBarbera, Priscilla and Zeynep Gurhan (1997), "The Role of Materialism, Religiosity, and Demographics in Subjective Well-Being," Psychology and Marketing, 14 (January), 71-97.

LeCroy, C. W. (1988), "Parent-Adolescent Intimacy: Impact on Adolescent Functioning," Adolescence, 23, 137-147.

Levy, Sidney J. (1981), "Interpreting Consumer Mythology: A Structural Approach to Consumer Behavior," Journal of Marketing, 45 (Summer), 49-61.

McAlexander, James H., Jon W. Schouten, and Scott D. Roberts (1993), "Consumer Behavior and Divorce," Research in Consumer Behavior, 6, 153-184.

McClelland, Gary H. and Charles M. Judd (1993), "Statistical Difficulties of Detecting Interactions and Moderator Effects," Psychological Bulletin, 114 (2), 376-390.

McLanahan, Sara S, and Karen Booth (1989), "Mother-only Families: Problems, Prospects, and Politics," Journal of Marriage and the Family, 51 (August), 557-580.

Maslow, Abraham H. (1970), Motivation and Personality. New York: Harper and Row.

Mick, David Glen (1996), "Are Studies of Dark Side Variables Confounded by Socially Desirable Responding? The Case of Materialism," Journal of Consumer Research, 23 (September), 106-119.

Moschis, George P. and Gilbert A. Churchill, Jr. (1978), "Consumer Socialization: A Theoretical and Empirical Analysis," Journal of Marketing Research, 15 (November), 599-609.

Pollay, Richard (1986), "The Distorted Mirror: Reflections on the Unintended Consequences of Advertising," Journal of Marketing, 50 (April), 18-36.

Richins, Marsha L. (1987), "Media, Materialism, and Human Happiness," in Advances in Consumer Research, 14, Melanie Wallendorf and Paul Anderson, eds. Provo, UT: Association for Consumer Research, 352-356.

Richins, Marsha and Scott Dawson (1992), "A Consumer Values Orientation for Materialism and Its Measurement: Scale Development and Validation," Journal of Consumer Research, 19 (December), 303-316.

Rindfleisch, Aric, James E. Burroughs, and Frank Denton (1997), "Family Structure, Materialism, and Compulsive Consumption," Journal of Consumer Research, 23 (March), 312-325.

Rosenthal, David, Geoffrey K. Leigh, and Richard Elardo (1985), "Home Environment of Three- to Six-Year Old Children From Father-Absent and Two-Parent Families," Journal of Divorce, 9 (Winter), 41-48.

Sartre, Jean-Paul (1956), Being and Nothingness: An Essay on Phenomenology Ontology. New York: Philosophical Library.

Schudson, Michael (1984), Advertising: The Uneasy Persuasion. New York: Basic Books.

Scitovsky, Tibor (1976), The Joyless Economy. New York: Oxford University Press.

Seltzer, Judith A. and Suzanne M. Bianchi (1988), "Children’s Contact with Absent Parents," Journal of Marriage and the Family, 50 (August), 663-677.

Stevenson, Michael R. and Kathryn N. Black (1996), How Divorce Affects Offspring: A Research Approach. Boulder, CO: Westview Press.

Stirtzinger, R. and L. Colvat (1990), "Preschool Age Children of Divorce: Transitional Phenomenon and the Mourning Process," Canadian Journal of Psychology, 35, 506-513.

Wallerstein, Judith S. and Joan Berlin Kelly (1980), Surviving the Breakup: How Children and Parents Cope with Divorce. New York: Basic Books.

----------------------------------------