Drifting Away From the Consumption Spiral: Trait Aspects of Voluntary Simplicity
EXTENDED ABSTRACT - AVoluntary simplicity@, Adownshifting@, Asustainable lifestyle@, are all invading bookshelves, the World Wide Web, special journal editions, as well as some conferences and class syllabi. While widely used in ordinary conversation and by writers (Elgin and Mitchell 1977, Elgin 1981; Leonard-Barton 1981; Shama 1981, 1984, 1996; Cowles and Crosby 1986; Schor 1998, 2000; Pradervand 1996; Etzioni 1998; Mongeau, 1998, Segal 1999), Avoluntary simplicity@ still lacks a homogeneous definition and appropriate measurement (Shama 1996). The idea of living more simply has shifted into a life choice phenomenon. Away from religion or ecological constraints, contemporary voluntary simplifiers deliberately escape the consumption spiral to gain control over their time and spending behavior, and engage in plain living and high thinking.
Helene Cherrier (2002) ,"Drifting Away From the Consumption Spiral: Trait Aspects of Voluntary Simplicity", in AP - Asia Pacific Advances in Consumer Research Volume 5, eds. Ramizwick and Tu Ping, Valdosta, GA : Association for Consumer Research, Pages: 280-281.
"Voluntary simplicity", "downshifting", "sustainable lifestyle", are all invading bookshelves, the World Wide Web, special journal editions, as well as some conferences and class syllabi. While widely used in ordinary conversation and by writers (Elgin and Mitchell 1977, Elgin 1981; Leonard-Barton 1981; Shama 1981, 1984, 1996; Cowles and Crosby 1986; Schor 1998, 2000; Pradervand 1996; Etzioni 1998; Mongeau, 1998, Segal 1999), "voluntary simplicity" still lacks a homogeneous definition and appropriate measurement (Shama 1996). The idea of living more simply has shifted into a life choice phenomenon. Away from religion or ecological constraints, contemporary voluntary simplifiers deliberately escape the consumption spiral to gain control over their time and spending behavior, and engage in plain living and high thinking.
In order to develop a current conceptual definition and measurement of voluntary simplicity-related traits, I first present the origin of the term voluntary simplicity as well as some specific scales developed previously by academic researchers. Based on a review of the academic literature, popular readings, two voluntary simplicity chat rooms, four open questionnaires, and five in-depth interviews with voluntary simplifiers, I develop 133 items that portray three identified traits of voluntary simplifiers: "self-determination", "attitude toward money" and "personal growth". A principal components analysis on two different student samples resulted in a sum scale containing 2 items (7 items for self-determination, 6 items for attitude toward money, and 8 items for personal growth). A confirmatory factor analysis provided a comparative Fit index of .98 and a Tucker-Lewis index of .98, both above the suggested .90 advocated by Bollen (1989). Moreover, the lower bound of the root mean square error of approximation of .056 (RMSEA) was below the value of .08 recommended by Browne and Cudek (1993) for a reasonable fit. Considering the above elements and the relative small Chi-Square value given the degrees of freedom of the model (X2=290, df=186, p=.00), it seemed reasonable to conclude that these data are consistent with the proposed three dimensions: self-determination, attitude toward money, and personal growth. In addition, T-values associated with each of the items were significant (p<.001). The reliability of each trait measure was then tested for both studies. In the first study, the coefficient Alpha for "self determination", "attitude toward money", and "personal growth" were respectively .78, .80., and .77. With the second sample, the respective coefficient Alpha for "self determination", "attitude toward money", and "personal growth" were .71, .83, and .72.
Discriminant validity was successfully tested by considering whether the voluntary simplicity-related traits were confounded with a nostalgia measure, it was not. Nomological validity was also successfully tested by assessing each scales ability to account for non-materialistic values and frugality attitudes.
Considering the ambiguity and complexity non-materialistic values in consumer behavior, the use of scales such as "self-determination", "value toward money" and "personal growth" within the concept of voluntary simplicity has important marketing and consumer implications. For instance, the negative link between materialism and attitude toward money and personal growth suggests that non-materialistic consumers emphasize happiness and spiritual growth over money. Moreover, the absence of a link between voluntary simplicity traits and nostalgia indicates that non-materialistic values are not a return to tradition, but rather a reconstruction of meaning outside of the consumption culture. Thus, these three scales answer the need to improve our understanding of non-materialistic values within consumer behavior.
Other studies may employ diverse empirical methods such as experiment vs. survey. As noted by Lastovicka et al. (1999), the use of Multitrait-multimethod (MTMM) designs should ultimately prove discriminant validity (Campbell and Fiske 1959). Other constructs based on ecological awareness and human scale would be interesting to consider for nomological validity.
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Helene Cherrier, University of Arkansas, U.S.A.
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