Comment on the Meaning of &Quot;Life Style&Quot;

William D. Wells, Needham, Harper and Steers Advertising, Inc.
[ to cite ]:
William D. Wells (1976) ,"Comment on the Meaning of &Quot;Life Style&Quot;", in NA - Advances in Consumer Research Volume 03, eds. Beverlee B. Anderson, Cincinnati, OH : Association for Consumer Research, Pages: 498.

Advances in Consumer Research Volume 3, 1976      Page 498


William D. Wells, Needham, Harper and Steers Advertising, Inc.

The term "life style" has been around for a long time, and has come to mean many things to many people. It was used extensively by Veblen, in his classic works on social class. To Veblen, life style was, in essence, what social class is all about.

The term "life style" has also figured prominently in the work of Alfred Adler. To Adler, life style was a much more individual concept than it was to Veblen. It meant something like "core personality" --a way of responding to the world that the person develops early in life and that endures more or less unchanged over long periods of time.

More recently, "life style" has been widely and loosely used in the popular press. There it means expressive behavior -- usually public and usually involving the consumption of goods and services -- by which the individual defines to himself and to others his role in life. This use is similar to Veblen's but broader because it is not as focused on social class.

The term "life style" has also become attached to a type of research that attempts to provide detailed descriptions of consumers in terms of their activities, interests and opinions in addition to (not instead of) their demographic characteristics. The purpose of this research, some of which you will see later in this workshop, is to help communicators understand their audiences by providing detailed, multi-faceted descriptions that allow a marketer, a writer or a public policy maker to visualize the people he (or she) is trying to reach.

The activity, interest and opinion research, and the term "life style," developed separately. They came together because "life style" seemed to be such an appropriate shorthand expression for what the activity, interest and opinion research was attempting to portray. Thus, almost accidentally, the life style concept has become operationalized among a certain group of researchers as activity, interest and opinion research conducted for a rather limited set of purposes and employing a rather limited set of techniques. For other researchers, both within and outside of the realm of consumer behavior, the concept of life style would be operationalized in other ways.

There will no doubt continue to be groups of life style researchers whose aims and methods have little or nothing in common. This will distress the many of us who wish the world were simpler than it is; but, hopefully, it will benefit the field by maintaining competing points of view each of which has something to contribute that the others do not. At this point in its development, life style research cannot be tied into one neat operational package; that's good.