Consumer Vanity: a Cross-Cultural Study in the U.S. and China

EXTENDED ABSTRACT - Marketers have played an increasingly important role in the development of global consumer culture with their advertising messages that appeal to physical beauty and achievement status. A fixation with physical appearance and achievement of personal goals are manifestations of an underlying consumer value orientation known as consumer vanity (Netemeyer, Burton, and Lichtenstein 1995). By virtue of global media, international tourism, and multinational marketing, consumer culture is rapidly spreading around the world. In response to Netemeyer et al.’s (1995) call for comparative studies on the vanity construct between Western and Eastern cultures, the present research examines cultural differences in the four components of the vanity construct, namely appearance concern, appearance perception, achievement concern, and achievement perception.



Citation:

Paul Z. Wang (2002) ,"Consumer Vanity: a Cross-Cultural Study in the U.S. and China", in AP - Asia Pacific Advances in Consumer Research Volume 5, eds. Ramizwick and Tu Ping, Valdosta, GA : Association for Consumer Research, Pages: 290.

Asia Pacific Advances in Consumer Research Volume 5, 2002      Page 290

CONSUMER VANITY: A CROSS-CULTURAL STUDY IN THE U.S. AND CHINA

Paul Z. Wang, University of Technology, Sydney, Australia

EXTENDED ABSTRACT -

Marketers have played an increasingly important role in the development of global consumer culture with their advertising messages that appeal to physical beauty and achievement status. A fixation with physical appearance and achievement of personal goals are manifestations of an underlying consumer value orientation known as consumer vanity (Netemeyer, Burton, and Lichtenstein 1995). By virtue of global media, international tourism, and multinational marketing, consumer culture is rapidly spreading around the world. In response to Netemeyer et al.’s (1995) call for comparative studies on the vanity construct between Western and Eastern cultures, the present research examines cultural differences in the four components of the vanity construct, namely appearance concern, appearance perception, achievement concern, and achievement perception.

To help generate research hypotheses regarding cultural differences in each of the four components of the vanity construct, several relevant theoretical perspectives were presented in this paper. They include the cultural dimension of individualism versus collectivism (e.g., Hofstede 1980; Markus and Kitayama 1991), human versus nature orientation (e.g., Thompson and Hirschman 1995), locus of control research (e.g., Rotter 1996; Smith, Trompenaars, and Dugan 1995), globalization of consumer culture (e.g., Campbell 1987; Richins and Dawson 1992), and cultural influence on self-concept (e.g., Bracken 1996; Schwartz and Bilsky 1987).

Data were obtained through the survey method from 410 college students in the United States and China. To examine applicability of the 4-dimension 21-item vanity measure across the national cultures, the present research investigated measurement equivalence by using multiple-group confirmatory factor analysis model with mean structures. It followed the comprehensive analytical framework proposed recently by Steenkamp and Baumgartner (1998) to assess measurement equivalence in cross-cultural consumer research. It is believed that the testing procedures demonstrated here can be applied to other cross-cultural studies, not only in consumer behavior and international marketing, but also in other disciplines of social sciences.

Results of the study indicated that the consumer vanity measure exhibited adequate metric (factor loadings) invariance and scalar (item intercepts) invariance across the countries. Data lent support to most of the hypotheses of cultural differences in concerns for and perceptions of physical appearance and personal achievement. Comparisons of factor means on appearance concern showed, as hypothesized, that Americans possessed higher levels of appearance concern than Chinese consumers. Hypothesis testing on appearance perception and achievement perception indicated, as expected, that American consumers exhibited higher perception levels than consumers in China. These findings offered empirical support for theories pertaining to differences in self-concept between the independent view of the self dominant in Western individualist cultures and the interdependent view of the self common in Eastern collectivist cultures (e.g., Hofstede 1980; Markus and Kitayama 1991; Schwartz and Bilsky 1987).

In sum, the present study provided a rigorous cross-cultural validation test of the vanity scales and compared factor mean scores between consumers in the U.S. and those in China. One limitation of this study relates to the use of student samples. To achieve sample comparability subject to resource constraint, the current study has used college students from the U.S. and China. Future research could employ nationally representative samples in more countries to enhance the generalizability of the research findings. In addition, researchers in the future could examine the structural relationships among consumer vanity, its antecedents, and outcomes in various cultures. As more and more firms expand their business beyond their national borders, such studies should prove useful to both consumer researchers and marketing managers.

REFERENCES

Bracken, Bruce A., ed. (1996), Handbook of Self-Concept: Developmental, Social, and Clinical Considerations, New York, NY: John Wiley & Sons, Inc.

Campbell, Colin (1987), The Romantic Ethic and the Spirit of Modern Consumerism, Oxford, England: Basil Blackwell.

Hofstede, Geert (1980), Culture’s Consequences: International Differences in Work Related Values, Beverly Hills, CA: Sage Publications.

Markus, Hazel Rose and Shinobu Kitayama (1991), "Culture and the Self: Implications for Cognition, Emotion, and Motivation," Psychological Review, 98 (2), 224-253.

Netemeyer, Richard G., Scot Burton, and Donald R. Lichtenstein (1995), "Trait Aspects of Vanity: Measurement and Relevance to Consumer Behavior," Journal of Consumer Research, 21 (March), 612-626.

Richins, Marsha L. 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.

Rotter, Julian B. (1966), "Generalized Expectancies for Internal versus External Control of Renforcement," Psychological Monographs: General and Applied, 80 (1), 1-28.

Schwartz, Shalom H. and Wolfgang Bilsky (1987), "Toward a Universal Psychological Structure of Human Values," Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 53 (3), 550-562.

Smith, Peter B., Fons Trompenaars, and Shaun Dugan (1995), "The Rotter Locus of Control Scale in 43 Countries: A Test of Cultural Relativity," International Journal of Psychology, 30 (3), 377-400.

Steenkamp, Jan-Benedict E. M. and Hans Baumgartner (1998), "Assessing Measurement Invariance in Cross-National Consumer Research," Journal of Consumer Research, 25 (June), 78-90.

Thompson, Craig J. and Elizabeth C. Hirschman (1995), "Understanding the Socialized Body: A Poststructuralist Analysis of Consumers’ Self-Conceptions, Body Images, and Self-Care Practices," Journal of Consumer Research, 22 (September), 139-153.

Yau, Oliver H. M. (1988), "Chinese Cultural Values: Their Dimensions and Marketing Implications," European Journal of Marketing, 22 (5), 44-57.

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Authors

Paul Z. Wang, University of Technology, Sydney, Australia



Volume

AP - Asia Pacific Advances in Consumer Research Volume 5 | 2002



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