Correlates of Materialism: a Study of Singaporean Chinese

ABSTRACT - Using four measures of materialistic traits, namely money orientation, possessiveness , nongenerosity, and envy, the study examines extent of materialism among Chinese in Singapore and provides insights into relationships of materialism with various demographic variables. It also investigates the relationship, between materialism and certain psychographic characteristics, namely change orientation, achievement motivation, locus of control, status consciousness and self monitoring. Finally it probes into the relationship between materialism and satisfaction in life and looks into its correlations with market behavior and attitudes of consumers.


Subhash C Mehta and Kau Ah Keng (1985) ,"Correlates of Materialism: a Study of Singaporean Chinese", in SV - Historical Perspective in Consumer Research: National and International Perspectives, eds. Jagdish N. Sheth and Chin Tiong Tan, Singapore : Association for Consumer Research, Pages: 326-330.

Historical Perspective in Consumer Research: National and International Perspectives, 1985     Pages 326-330


Subhash C Mehta, National University of Singapore

Kau Ah Keng, National University of Singapore


Using four measures of materialistic traits, namely money orientation, possessiveness , nongenerosity, and envy, the study examines extent of materialism among Chinese in Singapore and provides insights into relationships of materialism with various demographic variables. It also investigates the relationship, between materialism and certain psychographic characteristics, namely change orientation, achievement motivation, locus of control, status consciousness and self monitoring. Finally it probes into the relationship between materialism and satisfaction in life and looks into its correlations with market behavior and attitudes of consumers.

The study is based on a cross-sectional survey of 515 Chinese heads-of-households in Singapore, all males below the age of 60 and having at least '0' level education. The results indicate a positive association between materialism. and age, marital status and family size. The relationships with education and occupational status were negative. Results of materialism's association with income and family life cycle were less clear. On psychographics, materialism was positively associated with achievement motivation, status conciousness and self-monitoring. The relationship with locus of control and change orientation was negative. The study provides clear evidence that materialism is negatively correlated with satisfaction in life and may, thus, contribute to unhappiness. On market behavior and attitudes., it appears that materialism promotes less careful shopping and negative attitudes towards salesmen and promotional efforts. However, it positively affects price consciousness among consumers.


Materialism. is a measure of importance that a consumer attaches to money and worldly possessions While the construct is far from being precise, the literature suggests that four distinct measures, namely money orientation, possessiveness or tendency to maintain control over material objects, non-generosity or unwillingness to share or give possessions to others and envy over possessions of others can together provide a satisfactory measure of materialism of art individual (Belk 1984; Moschis and Churchill 1978; Campbell 1969). Despite deep interest and considerable concern about materialism and its personal and social implications, empirical studies on materialism and correlates have been very rare,. A few studies have examined relationship of materialism with sex, age and general happiness or satisfaction in life but results are far from conclusive. Belk (1984) found that possessiveness and non-generosity scores did not differ for males and females, though females were significantly less envious than males, a difference which was also found by Daniels (1964). Belk (1984) also found that envy had a negative correlation of -.19 with age, While non-generosity showed a slight positive ccrrelations were significant beyond .02 level, they were quite small. Using two simple measures of happiness and satisfaction, as suggested by Gurin , Veroff and Feld (1960) and Brodburn and Caplovitz (1965), Belk (1984) also found significant negative correlations, ranging from -.08 to -.31, between three measures of materialism, namely possessiveness, nongenerosity and envy and two measures of well being, namely happiness and satisfaction in life, a result similar to the earlier findings of (Cszikzentmihalyi and Rochberg-Halton (1978). All these studies provide a very limited insight into correlates of materialism. The present study attempts, to provide some more evidence on these preliminary findings and includes, a number of additional demographic and psychographic variables to investigate the correlates of materialism more comprehensively. In addition, it also investigates the relation between materialism and certain behavioral and attitudinal inclinations of consumer towards price consciousness, carefulness in shopping and. attitudes towards salesmen and promotional efforts. Of course, the study also provides; a measure of materialism in an oriental culture, where Chinese are often accused of being too materialistic, an allegation not supported by the results of the study.


Sample Selection

The study is based on at convenience sample of 515 Chinese male heads-of-households under 60 and having at least '0' level education, a restriction imposed due to the questionnaire being in the English Language. The sample was, thus, biased in favour of better educated persons, which also led to a greater representation of professionals and higher income groups. However, this bias should not pose serious problem in examining the relationships of materialism with a number of demographic and psychographic variables, chosen for investigation in this study. Any projections of the findings to general Chinese population in Singapore, however, should be drawn with caution. The data for the study, were collected by the under-graduate students in a Consumer Behavior Course as a par t of a wider student research project. The questionnaire was fully structured and was administered to the respondents for self-completion . The profile of the sample is given in Table 1.

Measurement of Materialism

Materialism it the study was measured on the basis of four different constructs, namely money orientation, possessiveness, non-generosity and  envy. Table 2 presents items that wiere used to measure these constructs on a 5-point disagree/agree likert type scale, Each construct was measured through 3 items presented, in the form of statements.



Five of the nine items used to measure possessiveness, non-generosity and envy were selected from the scale used' by Belk (1984), which did not have a measure of money orientation. Other items were somewhat similar and- were modified to suit the local environment. Table 2 also provides the correlations of items to the composite measures which were derived from the summated ratings of the three items. The correlations were generally high.



Demographic Variables

One of the basic objectives of the study was to examine relationships of materialism with certain demographic variables. These background variables included were age, income, education, occupation, marital status, family life cycle (as indicated by the age of the youngest child), and family size. A one-way analysis of variance was performed, on all these seven background variables with scores on materialism measures as dependent variables. Table 1 provides selected results where mean differences between groups were significant beyond .1 level.

Psychographic Variables

While one would have liked to include a larger number of psychographic variables in this exploratory study, limitations of questionnaire length dictated & selective. approach. Variables finally chosen wore charge orientation, self-monitoring, locus of control, achievement motivation and status consciousness of the respondents. A lack of adequate theoretical foundation as well as dearth of previous empirical studies precluded and precise formulation of hypotheses and the purpose was primarily to explore the strength and direction of relationships between materialism and above mentioned consumer orientations. In addition, a measure of satisfaction in life with the things possessed was included to examine its relationship with materialism to investigate the validity of the previously found negative relationship, particularly in the context of an oriental culture. Table 3 provides items used to measure these variables and their correlations with the composites.. Again, a 5-point disagree/agree scale was used.



Market Behavior and Attitudes

Only three variables namely price consciousness, carefulness in shopping and attitudes towards salesmen were included to examine relationship of materialism with market behavior orientation of the consumer. Here again, the purpose was primarily exploratory and no precise directional hypotheses were set for testing. Table 4 presents items used, to measure these variables or; a 5 point disagree/agree scale.




Basic Data

The mean materialism scores of Chinese male heads-of-households in this study came to 7.03 on money orientation, 9.81 on possessiveness, 6.86 on non-generosity and 7.53 on envy, all measured on a 3 to 15 scale. Though strictly uncomparable either in sample or in measurement items used, the per item scores in this study were lower than those found by Belk (1984) on all the three measures common to both studies. Compared to Belk' s (1984) per item scores of 3.65 on possessiveness, 2.68 on non-generosity and 2.72 on envy, the scores in this study were 3.27, 2.29 and 2.51 respectively. Belk's (1984) study was based on a cross section of 338 consumers in the U. S. drawn from machine shop workers (27), religious institute students (32), business students (213), insurance secretaries (39) and a fraternity members (27).

Inter-correlations among measurers of materialism indicated that possessiveness, correlated poorly with all the other three measures. Its correlation with money orientation was a low .04, which was not significant, with non-generosity was .08 and with envy .13, both significant beyond .05 level. Money orientation had a correlation of .29 with non-generosity and .32 with envy, both highly significant. Non-generosity had a highly significant correlation of .13 with envy . The four measures of materialism were thus found to be quite distinct and it presented separate dimensions of the construct.

Demographic Differences

Of the 28 comparisons made through one--way analysis of variance (7 demographic variables X 4 materialism measures), only nine were significant beyond 0.1 level. Money orientation positively varied by age, family size and marital status. It negatively varied with education and occupational status. The relation with income was not significant. Results on family life cycle were mixed. Individuals with no children had lower money orientation than those with children. Individuals with small children (below 5) and also those with grown up children (above 18) showed greater money orientation than those having children between 5 and 18. Perhaps, new needs that emerge with small children and pressures exerted by a newer set of needs activated by college-going grown up children push the parents towards higher money orientation.

Possessiveness did not significantly vary with any of the seven demographic variables. The mean scores indicate that the sample showed a relatively higher possessiveness orientation and this was generally true for all demographic groupings.

Non-generosity varied significantly only on income and education and went down with increased levels of both, showing negative association. Envy was significantly associated only with education and showed mixed results. The graduates generally depicted higher levels of envy, while highly qualified persons with post-graduate qualifications and individuals with professional diplomas showed significantly lower levels of this trait.

Materialism and psychographic Orientations

Table 5 presents correlations between measures of materialism and psychographic orientations included in the study.



Except for possessiveness, Status consciousness correlated positively with the remaining three measures of materialism. Same was true of achievemert motivation which, except for non-generosity, had significant positive correlations with money orientation, possessiveness and envy. Materialism also showed significant positive correlations with self-monitoring behavior on three of its measures. On the other hand, change orientation and locus of control correlated negatively with materialism measures. Thus materialism evokes greater faith in luck, chance or destiny and promotes resistance to change. Regarding satisfaction in life, the study confirmed the earlier findings of Belk (1984) that materialism generally brought dissatisfaction in life. The correlations of satisfaction of the individual with what he has with all the four measures of materialism were significant and negative.

Market Behavior

Table 5 also presents correlations of materialism measures with market behavior variables. Price consciousness, had significant positive correlations with all measures of materialism. Regarding carefulness in shopping, three of the correlations were significant and negative. Similarly materialism had consistently negative correlations with favourable attitudes towards salesmen. Thus, materialism appears to promote price consciousness but evokes negative feelings towards salesmen and less careful behavior in shopping.


The study provide.-, new 'insights into the correlates of materialism. Though exploratory in nature, a number of generalisations can be drawn on the basis of this study.

(1) Allegations of high materialism leveled against Singaporeans, particularly of Chinese race, may be ill founded. Singapore Chinese do not indicate higher levels of materialism than consumers in the West.

(2) Possessiveness among Chinese is generally high and does not differ by any of the demographic variables. It also correlates poorly with other measures of materialism and thus appears to be a very distinct 'core' trait. There may be some questions about including this dimension in measures of materialism, at least in the oriental context.

(3) Materialism appears to be positively associated with age, family size and marital status. It negatively varies by occupation and education, though on one measure, namely envy, graduates showed higher traits than the lesser educated consumers. Though less clear, relation with income also tended to be negative but was significant only on non-generosity.

(4) Materialism evokes higher status consciousness, achievement motivation and self-moritoring behavior. It, however, promotes a perception of lesser control over the environment and creates resistance to change.

(5) The study clearly indicates that materialism is negatively correlated with consumer satisfaction with what they have. Material istic trait, thus, does not appear to contribute to consumer well-being.

(6) Materialism evokes traits of mote impulsive and less carefu shopping though at the same time it also appears to promote price consciousness. Attitudes to salesmen and selling efforts are negatively related to materialism.


Belk, Russell W. (1984), "Three Scales to Measure Constructs Related to Materialism: Reliability, Validity and Relationships to Measures of Happiness", in Thomas C Kinnear, Ed., Advances in Consumer Research, Association for Consumer Research, 291-298.

Bradburn, Norplan M. and Caplovitz, David (1965), Report on Happiness, Chicago: Aldine

Campbell, Donald T (1969), ''Materialism" ii, John P. Robinson and Phillip R Shawer (eds), Measure o f Social Attitudes, An,~ Arbor: Institute for Social Research, 6~1-52

Csikzentmihalyi, Mihaly and Rochberg-Halton, E. (1978), The Meaning of Things: Domestic Symbols and the Self; Cambridge: Cambridge University press.

Daniels, Marvin (1964), ''The Dynamics of Morbid Envy in the Etiology and Treatment of Chronic Learning Disability'', Psychoanalytic Review, 51, 45-56.

Gurin, C., Veroff, J., and Feld, S. (1960), Americans View Their Mental Health, New York: Basic Books

Moschis, George P., and Gilbert A. Churchill (1978), "Consumer Socialization: A Theoretical and Empirical Analysis", Journal of Marketing Research, 15, 594-609.



Subhash C Mehta, National University of Singapore
Kau Ah Keng, National University of Singapore


SV - Historical Perspective in Consumer Research: National and International Perspectives | 1985

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