A Psychographic Approach to Materialism

ABSTRACT - The purpose of this paper is to examine the relationship between the materialism construct and psychographical factors of the individual. These psychographical or life-style factors may provide an essential insight into the behavior of the individual with respect to materialistic traits and/or behavior. An empirical study is undertaken in which subjects are administered a materialism instrument along with a psychographic instrument. The relationships and associations are derived from this joint measurement.


Anthony Hendrickson and Hubert Morrisette (1992) ,"A Psychographic Approach to Materialism", in SV - Meaning, Measure, and Morality of Materialism, eds. Floyd W. Rudmin and Marsha Richins, Provo, UT : Association for Consumer Research, Pages: 128-139.

Meaning, Measure, and Morality of Materialism, 1992      Pages 128-139


Anthony Hendrickson, Business Administration, University of Arkansas

Hubert Morrisette, Business Administration, University of Arkansas


The purpose of this paper is to examine the relationship between the materialism construct and psychographical factors of the individual. These psychographical or life-style factors may provide an essential insight into the behavior of the individual with respect to materialistic traits and/or behavior. An empirical study is undertaken in which subjects are administered a materialism instrument along with a psychographic instrument. The relationships and associations are derived from this joint measurement.

The basic construct of materialism is based on work done by Russell Balk. The materialism traits proposed by Balk are replicated, then correlated against psychographic items utilized by Darden and Ashton. A set of common psychographic factors are developed for further analysis. Finally, the psychographic factors are utilized, along with the materialism construct to establish clusters of subjects with different psychographical characteristics and varying levels of the materialism dimension.


The focus of this paper is to examine the concept of materialism in relation to individual psychographic factors. The concept of materialism is explored based on the research defined and pioneered by Russell Balk in the early 1980s (Belk 1982) (Belk 1983) (Belk 1984) (Belk 1985). Research in this paper is built directly on Belk's (1982) (1983) (1984) (1985) earlier research. In Belk's (1984) work, materialism is measured indirectly by the associated traits of materialism, possessiveness, nongenerosity, and envy.

Previous research has examined the effects and impacts of materialism on consumer behavior and psychographic factors on consumer behavior. This research will examine the interaction of the two concepts. The exploratory research undertaken seeks to discover and describe the impacts of psychographic factors on the amount of observable materialism. This study attempts to examine the relationship of materialism traits, proposed by Belk (1984), and consumer characteristics derived from clustering similar life-style dimensions and demographic aspects, of a sample.


The idea that people gain personal satisfaction from the ownership or control of tangible objects is the essence of the concept "materialism". A person's internal derivation of satisfaction, or the lack thereof, is based on the individual's accumulation of desirable items. The items themselves may be the end in itself or they may be the means to an end (Belk 1984). For instance, a million dollars in a Swiss bank account may be the means to financial security. The definition of materialism utilized in this paper will be the definition proposed by Belk (1984):

The importance a consumer attaches to worldly possessions. At the highest levels of materialism, such possessions assume a central place in a person's life and are believed to provide the greatest sources of satisfaction and dissatisfaction.

Materialism itself is a difficult construct to measure. It is not a trivial task to determine the importance an individual places on worldly possessions. The problem is not only limited to an unbiased objective observer, each individual himself/herself would find it difficult to correctly relate a measurable level of importance that is operational in their life at any given moment. It is easy to see that if the person experiencing the phenomena is unable to accurately relate the level of the operational factor, it is nearly impossible for an observer to ascertain a measurement of this concept.

For this reason the need for a more readily available measurement is necessary in order to further study the construct. Early researchers wrestled with this same problem. Many attempted peripheral concepts and measurements. Most researchers only examined measurements of attitudes toward materialism not materialism itself (Campbell 1969) (Mochis and Churchill 1978). Based upon his previous research, Belk (1984) presented traits associated with materialism. Measurements for these traits were then found to be reliable surrogates for the measurement of the materialism concept itself. The three major traits associated with materialism are: possessiveness, nongenerosity, and envy.


The first trait associated to materialism is possessiveness, Possessiveness is defined as the need to maintain control or ownership over an individual's possessions (Belk 1983). An individual's possessions is not limited only to tangible items, but may also be experiences, such as vacations. Possessions may also be relationships, such as spouse, child, employee, student, or any subordinate entity (Belk 1992). Belk (1984) also points out that possessiveness incorporates the aspect of the loss of possessions. The trait includes a preference to own. The trait drives an individual toward higher degrees of control like ownership, and away from lower levels of control like borrowing or leasing. There is also a tendency toward permanency of experiences like photographing vacation experiences (1984). Although attribution of possessions traits to self-concept is generally considered a motivating factor in possessiveness, there are questions as to the extent of the attribution and its affect on the possessiveness trait (Wallendorf and Arnould 1988).

The second trait of materialism is nongenerosity. This trait is defined by Belk (1984) as the lack of willingness in sharing or giving an individuals possessions to other people. Belk (1984) further defines the scope of nongonerosity to be:

The attitudinal domain to be sampled in measuring nongenerosity involves unwillingness to share possessions with others. Reluctance to land or donate possessions to others is considered an expression of nongenerosity. Since the measure is to apply only to material nongenerosity, reluctance to share or give time, knowledge, skills, effort, and money are excluded.

Envy is the final trait associated by Belk with materialism. This trait is defined as an individual's desire or covetousness for the possessions or objects of others. The trait is differentiated from jealousy, which is defined as the desire for the retention of one's own possessions. Jealousy is then seen as desire to retain control of possessions already in one's domain of ownership. This is contrasted with the trait of envy, which covets objects or experiences outside of one's current domain of ownership (Belk 1984). For example, a parent may be jealous if his/her child's attention or affection is given to another family member or someone outside the home, like a school teacher. The emotions are accurately defined as jealousy in this situation since the child is part of the parent's domain of control. However, if the parent wishes their child was the local sports star or homecoming queen, as the neighbor's child may well be, then the parent is displaying an envious trait. The neighbor's child is not part of the parent's domain of control.


Belk (1984) tested the reliability of the trait measure scales. The trait measure scales were pretested on a group of 338 students. An extensive questionnaire with 24 irrelevant questions were mixed with 7 -to 9 questions on each of the three traits under examination. Cronbach's Coefficient Alpha was utilized to measure the internal consistency of the instrument. Alpha values for possessiveness, nongenerosity, and envy were found to be .57, .58, and .64, respectively.

Validity, both convergent and discriminate, is examined in all three trait measurement questionnaires. Convergent validity is tested using the monotrait-heteromethod validity diagonals of the multitrait-multimethod matrix. The discriminate validity was also examined using the multitrait-muitimethod matrix. Overall, the validity measures of the three scales performed very well. Using commonly accepted statistical techniques the instruments proved to be good measures of the traits of interest.


In the initial 1984 study performed by Belk (1984), females were found to be less envious than males. The envy trait was found to be slightly negatively correlated with age, while the nongenerosity trait was found be positively correlated with age. The study also examined the correlations of happiness and satisfaction to the three traits. All the traits were found to be negatively correlated to both happiness and satisfaction. Possessiveness was found to be the least correlated with both factors, while envy proved to be the most negatively correlated. The results definitely indicated that the amount of envy present correlates directly with unhappiness and dissatisfaction.

In 1985 a second study of materialism traits was conducted by Belk utilizing a convenience sample of three-generation families. 99 subjects in 33 families were used. The purpose of this study was to examine the traits with respect to age category considerations. The youngest group ranged in age from 13 to 26, the middle group ranged in age from 31 to 58 and the oldest generation ranged from 55 to 92 years of age. The middle generation scored highest in materialism on the overall scale as well as the individual scales. The youngest and oldest generations were not found to be significantly different. However, the materialism scores wore found to be lowest among members of the oldest age group.


The field of psychographics is essentially the study of personality traits and their corresponding affects on consumer behavior. In reviewing the past work in psychographics one finds that research in this field dates as far back as the late 1950s or early 1960s (Wells 1975) (Wells and Tigert 1971). Two approaches to the research was initially undertaken. The first was to simply observe and correlate personality traits with behavior. No causal relationship was hypothesized or proposed. The second approach to the research was to examine the consumer's underlying motivations for the behavior that is exhibited. In the early stages of research the two approaches were grouped together into the area of consumer research more commonly known as "psychographics".

The actual definition of the term psychographics is somewhat nebulous. There are nearly as many definitions as there are researchers in the field. However, there are some common characteristics of the definitions utilized. Two major characteristics identified by Wells (1975) are a definition beyond basic demographics and the incorporation of quantitative research methods.

Most ail researchers have sought to expand the definition and use of psychographics beyond simple demographic measures. That is, researchers have attempted to broaden the scope of research into areas more descriptive than simply categorizing a population by age, sex, income, social class, etc. (Wells 1975). The focus has been on individuals activities, interests, opinions, motivations, desires, and general personality traits (Wells and Tigert 1971).

The second common characteristic is the incorporation of quantitative data gathering. This aspect has allowed researchers to operationalize their theories using larger sample populations and more advanced statistical techniques. Because of this approach to data acquisition more complex multivariate statistical analysis has been possible. While the utilization of more sophisticated techniques is not the objective of the research, the use of these instruments and measures have provided a means for a richer understanding of the factors involved in consumer behavior (Wells 1975).

Wells (1975) classifies the research into five typographical groups. The first type of research identified was large scale psychological profile of a particular type of consumer. The profile is based on demographic and lifestyle characteristics that are rich, comprehensive and complete enough to allow the researcher to construct a stereotypical portrait of a consumer group. In order to do this accurately the research is obligated to use extensive instruments which address all major aspects of the subjects attitudes, feelings, and behavior.

A similar, but more limited approach to the personality profile research is the product specific profile. The scope of this research attempts to address the personality of a consumer of a particular product. Contrasted with the previous personality profile, the focus of the research is designed to define the characteristics of a specific consumer versus the description of a consumer category (Plummer 1971) (Wells 1975).

The third type of research category uses personality traits as a descriptive measure of a population of consumers. In this type of research the psychographic characteristics, in total, of a group of consumers is correlated against a specific characteristic of the population group. For example, all the traits of a consurnei population are examined in an effort to understand the personality traits of a population that is concerned with environmental issues (Wells 1975).

A study of life-style characteristics in general for a population of consumers is an example of another type of research classification. In this case the assumption is that consumers are not necessarily homogeneous. If fact the group may be quite diverse. The researcher seeks to segment the population based on general characteristics unrelated to the specific product being consumed. Research in this area attempts to define consumer types based on an aggregate appraisal of the characteristics of the entire population (Darden and Ashton 1974/1975) (Wells 1975).

Finally, the fifth type of category is the segmentation of a population based on the consumption behavior of a specific product. This kind of research is very similar to the previous category in that consumers are segmented into typographical classifications. The real functional difference is the perspective of the research. In the previous example the focus is the identification of segmentation classifications based on a broad range of psychographic characteristics. In this category the psychographic traits are limited to those factors which are tangent to the consumption of a specific product. Because of the more specific focus of the research this type of investigation is very useful in the differentiation between brand consumption of a product (Darden and Ashton 1974/1975) (Wells 1975).

While there exists a wealth of research- on consumer behavior in light of psychographic characteristics, not all of this work is extremely reliable or highly correlated (Kassarjian 1971). That is not to say that the research is inaccurate. The accuracy of the findings rests within the utilization of the research. Overall, many of the studies exhibit relatively low correlations between the independent and dependent variables. This can be attributed to the natural progression of the research process and the fact that the nature of research in this area focuses primarily with the application of sociological and psychological theory to tangible human behavior. As theoretical concepts in these fields evolve the application of this theory also changes. Researchers generally understand the limitations of the inferential statistical methods utilized. The problem arises when inferences are broadly applied based on limited studies which yield less than overwhelming inferential power.

In general, the exploration of consumer values, personality traits, interests, activities, opinions, and life-style characteristics is an attempt by marketers to better understand consumers with the specific goal of gaining a strategic marketing advantage over their competitors. This objective stems from to the birth of psychographics research in the inception of motivational research. The underlying assumption is that if a marketer understands the consumer's inherent needs, values, desires, in deed the consumer's motivations, then there is an opportunity to exploit these characteristics to the advantage of the marketer (Townsend 1986).

The use of psychographic research is not limited to consumer products only. The research applies to the term "consumer' as the consumption agent of any tangible product, opinion, idea or philosophy, is. the research can be utilized by a political organization in advocating its political goals (Zotti 1975).

Another basis of psychographic research is the presumption that a single or limited number of characteristics is less useful as a predictive measure of future behavior. While the identification of a single characteristic may be insightful, generally its value as a predictor is limited. In order to increase reliability it is necessary to group characteristics together is such a way as to create a profile of the consumer. While a single trait may be correlated with a behavior, alone it is suspect as a predictive variable. Thus the process of psychographic research is to cluster life-style characteristics together in such a way that an applicable consumer profile is developed (Townsend 1986).


A survey containing the materialism instrument developed by Belk (1984), a life-style instrument developed by Darden and Ashton (1974/1975), and general demographic questions was hand delivered to 310 residents of a medium-sized midwestern city (Springdale, AR). The surveys were hand delivered by students. Respondents were asked to complete the survey and return it in a pro-addressed envelope provided with the instrument. Of the 310 surveys delivered, 260 were returned (84%). The analysis involved several steps. The initial process was to replicate Belk's (1984) study of the Possessiveness, Nongenerosity and Envy constructs developed by Belk (1984). This part of the analysis was accomplished using Cronbach's Alpha.

Next the life-style instrument, developed and utilized by Darden and Ashton (1974/1975), was used to create distinct life-style factors. These factors were then analyzed with the materialism measures in order to determine if any correlation between life-style factors and materialism exists. Finally a cluster analysis utilizing the psychographic dimensions identified and Belk's (1984) three materialism factors was conducted. From this analysis, five distinct clusters were identified.


Belk (1984) tested the reliability of the constructs comprising materialism, possessiveness, nongenerosity, and envy using Cronbach's Alpha. Belk (1984) reported scores of .57, .58, and .64 respectively, for each component. Utilizing the same measure, Cronbach's Alpha, the study results found scores of .47 for possessiveness, .39 for nongenerosity, and .56 for envy. Although lower, these results appear to be similar to Belk's [3] findings. The only questionable score is the finding for nongenerosity, which appeared to be somewhat lower than Belk's (1984) results.

In examining the Cronbach Alpha results (shown in appendix A), the coefficient for possessiveness could be raised only slightly to .48 from .47 if the statement "Renting or leasing a car is more appealing to me than owning one." was removed from the measure. The Cronbach Alpha results for nongenerosity could be raised to .44 from .38 if the item "it makes sense to buy a lawnmower with a neighbor and share it.' was deleted from the measure. Finally, the analysis reveals the envy Cronbach Alpha score could be raised from .55 to .59 if the statement "I don't know anyone whose spouse or steady date I would like to have as my own." was eliminated from the measure. These findings show that the reliability measure could be elevated if the construct measures were reduced by at least one variable. However, with the exception of the nongenerosity construct, the reliability findings in the study replicate the Belk (1984) findings.

In relation with other variables Belk (1984) found that envy was slightly negatively correlated with age and that nongenerosity was slightly positively correlated with age. While the results of this study did not show a correlation with these measures individually the overall measure of materialism was found to be somewhat positively correlated with age. (p-value = .0176 and correlation coefficient = .1548)


The life-style items utilized in this study were used by Darden and Ashton (1974/1975) in a study that explored the relationship between store attribute preferences and the life-style factors of the preference groups. The conceptual support for this work was done by Darden and Reynolds (1971), Lunn (1966), Engel, Kollat, and Blackwell (1969), and Wells and Tigert (1971). Darden and Ashton (1974/1975) utilized the 45 question life-style scale to produce 19 factors based on 2 to 7 items each and with split-halt reliability scores ranging from .40 to .93.

Darden and Ashton (1974/1975) used a varimax rotation method and utilized the instrument to develop five distinct shopper profiles. While the number of factors identified by Darden and Ashton (1974/1975) we significantly greater Ow the number utilized in this study, there is no theoretical reason for maintaining the same number of factors. The Sores plot, the differences in eigonvalues and the need for parsimony, indicate that more than eight factors would only confound the research results. Additionally, since the instrument was designed to detect differences in life styles, one would anticipate that life styles would be different based on geography, demographics and certainly over extended time periods such as is the case in this instance. Data for this study was collected nearly 15 yews after the initial work of Darden and Ashton (1974/1975).

A factor analysis was performed on the 45 question life-style instrument items using principal components method as the extraction technique and promax: as the rotation method. A scree plot was utilized to identify 8 distinct life-style factors. The number of items loading on the factors above .40 varied from 3 to 11. The face validity of the factors appeared favorable, with only a few isolated incongruent factor item loadings. The 8 factors identified were upscale trend conscious, self-confidence, weight conscious, volunteer, housework adverse, credit card adverse, price conscious, and peer product awareness. The factors are presented in appendix C and the specific item loadings are presented in appendix D.

A correlation analysis was then performed on the life-style factors and the materialism constructs. The results indicate individuals who were not generous, exhibited less tendency to volunteer (a negative correlation between nongenerosity and volunteerism, p-value = .0076, correlation coefficient = -0.1905). Respondents who exhibited the nongenerosity trait were also less price conscious (a negative correlation between nongenerosity and price consciousness, p-value = .0364, correlation coefficient = -0.1500). Individuals who exhibited the envy trait were found to be less credit card adverse (a negative correlation between envy and credit card adverse, p-value .0015, correlation coefficient -0.2270).

The negative correlation of nongenerosity and volunteerism has significant face validity. The more difficult to explain relationship exists between nongenerosity and price consciousness. The negative correlation is the bewildering point that warrants further consideration. One possible explanation of this is that persons who are not generous may already possess sufficient resources such that they do not feel compelled to participate in price comparisons. Just because an individual is not charitable does not necessarily infer that they feel the need to be price conscious. The trait does not measure the financial condition of the individual, only their propensity to be generous with their possessions.

The envy construct being negatively correlated with the credit card adverse factor is possibly explained by the theoretical hypothesis that people with less envy tend to be less motivated to purchase items in order to maintain status. If this hypothesis is true then envious persons may be motivated to extend (or even over-extend) their credit card balances to purchase items which will facilitate their need to maintain a desired socioeconomic status.


The theoretical impetus for the cluster analysis lies in the integration of existing theories of behavior. Fishbein and Ajzen (1975) indicate that behavior or behavioral intentions are the attitude toward an act plus subjective norms. The attitude toward the act is further defined as the summation of the beliefs of the act and the evaluation of the consequences of the beliefs. Belk's (1984) definition of materialism, "The importance a consumer attaches to worldly possessions..." underscores that materialism is the amount of belief an individual places in tangible items in order to derive happiness and fulfillment. The more an individual believes that possessions will lead to happiness or the lack of possessions will lead to unhappiness and dissatisfaction, the more materialistic the individual is assumed to be.

The materialism instrument provides insight into the beliefs of an individual. The life-style questionnaire measures the individual's behavior or behavioral intentions, is. to have one or more outfits of the latest style, or to attend concerts, etc. Therefore, according to the Fishbein and Ajzen (1975) model, materialism (the belief that possessions make one happy), should influence an individual's life-style decisions.

Thus, objective of the cluster analysis was to examine the relationship between psyschographic factors and materialism. Further, the goal was to discover any existing relationships and to examine any insight these relationships may provide into the materialism construct. The eight psychographic and three materialism dimensions were used to define groups of homogeneous subjects, from the sample. Subjects exhibiting similar degrees of the psychographic and materialism traits were grouped together in order to better understand the impact of these traits on the construct of materialism. Five homogeneous clusters were identified, using several widely accepted techniques, including Pseudo F, Cubic Clustering Criterion and frequencies within each cluster. These clusters are shown in appendix E. Labeling of the clusters groupings was accomplished by examining the items which comprised the clusters and simply attaching a moniker to the cluster which appeared to provide face validity to the preponderance of the cluster's items.

The first cluster was comprised of the factors Upscale Trend Conscious, Self Confidence, and Weight Conscious. This cluster displayed the highest degree of materialism of any of the five clusters. This cluster could best be described as 'Trendy-Upscale Materialists". These individuals are aware of current fashions, they regularly attend and participate in current cultural events, are both self confident and self conscious and are generally more concerned with material items than others in the population. Within the sample study 12.8% of the subjects wore among this cluster.

The second level of materialism was found in the middle three clusters. That is, the subjects in the middle three clusters, while displaying heterogeneous psychographic dimensions, exhibited a level of materialism significantly less than the first cluster, 'Trendy-Upscale Materialists". The second cluster, best described as "Discoverers', was composed of Factor Eight, Peer Product Awareness. These individuals are highly sensitive to the thoughts, and feeling of others in their poor group. They are highly influenced by their peers. These subjects comprise the largest group with 27.6% of the population.

The third group contains the factors Credit Card Adverse and Prim Conscious. These could best be categorized as "The Frugals". These individuals are very consumer conscious. The are aware of sales, discounts, interest rates, advertised specials, etc. They are the conscientious consumers of the population. They accounted for 27.0% of the sample. As stated earlier, the" subjects like the 'Discoverers" are significantly less materialistic than the "Trendy-Upscale Materialists".

The fourth cluster is formed by those who are Housework Adverse. These individuals, like the 'Odd Couple's" Oscar Madison, despise housework. They, like the "Discoverers' and 'The Frugals" show a significantly lower degree at materialism than the "Trendy-Upscale Materialists'. These people, "The Oscars", made up 25.0% of the population.

The fifth, and final, cluster was composed of Volunteers. These individuals are active in the community. They tend to lend a helping hand whenever asked. They also actively seek out opportunities to serve the community. They could best be portrayed as "The DoGooders'. These individuals comprised 7.6% of the population. This cluster exhibited a significantly lower level of the materialism, than any of the five clusters.


The overriding conclusions drawn from this research is that life-style factors do appear to be correlated with materialism. This suggests that materialism may need to be a life-style factor instead of an independent construct. Ufa-style factors may only be an indication of the presence of the materialism belief among individuals who possess specific life-style factors. The results do signify a connection between the materialism items and life-style factors. The results are compelling enough to warrant further investigation of this relationship.

The results of this study are intuitively appealing. The five clusters contain significant face validity. One would expect the "Trendy-Upscale Materialists" to possess a higher degree of materialism than the other cluster groups. These individuals possess the other characteristics one would expect to find among people with a high degree of materialism. At the same time, one would expect to observe the least amount of materialism among "The Do-Gooders". These individuals appear to be motivated by factors other than material well being. Their interests lie in community projects and service to others within their community.

The other three groups while not significantly different from each other, on the materialism dimension, they are heterogeneous groups in and of themselves. They are also different from the "Trendy-Upscale Materialists" and "The Do-Gooders" in terms of the materialism dimension. Also, the matching of the Price Conscious and Credit Card Adverse factors among "The Frugals" is to be expected. Consumers who tend to be price conscious would also be aware of the inefficiencies of the use of credit cards, at least in terms of consumer costs.

This research has shown a relationship between psychographic factors and the materialism construct. It has also shown that relationships between groups of individuals, based on life-We clusters, and the materialism construct are possible. This clustering of subjects can provide a platform for greater insight into the materialism construct and its possible affect on consumer behavior. Further analysis of the materialism items and all the demographic and additional life-style items is also warranted. Future research examing the relationships between the materialism construct and psychographic dimensions shown in this work with demographic profiles of each cluster grouping may be insightful. This type of exploratory research may uncover yet unknown and unconsidered relationships.












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Anthony Hendrickson, Business Administration, University of Arkansas
Hubert Morrisette, Business Administration, University of Arkansas


SV - Meaning, Measure, and Morality of Materialism | 1992

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