This episode on the topic of materialism concludes our series on the intersection of parenting and money. Here we talk with Dr. Susanna Opree of Erasmus University Rotterdam, who studies the effect of advertising and commercial media on use, materialism, and well-being.
We discuss how children's understanding of materialism shifts as they age, the extent to which advertising contributes to materialism, and the specific role that parents play in passing on this value.
Other episodes in this series:
This episode is the second in a series on the intersection of parenting and money. You can find other episodes in this series:
038: The Opposite of Spoiled105: How to pass on mental wealth to your child107: The impact of consumerism on children112: How to Set up a Play Room115: Reducing the Impact of Advertising to Children
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Dr. Opree 00:00
Basically, if you want to reduce materialism, you need to make sure that's those human connections. And those other values such as generosity, that they are amplified. And so I think what works best if Why do you see young kids to invest in their self-esteem a little bit as well also for adolescence, but I think also teaching young people to be grateful to be grateful ourselves as well for all the things that we have. And really just focus on making those connections. And the tricky thing is that sometimes possessions enable these connections. But I think if we're more focused on what's intrinsic to us, what makes us happy, outside of possessions that then basically the emphasis will shift.
Hi, I'm Jen and I host the Your Parenting Mojo podcast. We all want our children to lead fulfilling lives, but it can be so hard to keep up with the latest scientific research on child development and figure out whether and how to incorporate it into our own approach to parenting. Here at Your Parenting Mojo, I do the work for you by critically examining strategies and tools related to parenting and child development that are grounded in scientific research and principles of respectful parenting. If you'd like to be notified when new episodes are released and get a FREE Guide to 7 Parenting Myths That We Can Safely Leave Behind, seven fewer things to worry about, subscribe to the show at yourparentingmojo.com. You can also continue the conversation about the show with other listeners in the Your Parenting Mojo Facebook group. I do hope you'll join us Hello, and welcome to the Your Parenting Mojo podcast. And today's episode we're going to bring our series on the intersection of children and money to a conclusion we started out so long ago by talking with New York Times money columnist Ron Lieber about his book The Opposite of Spoiled. More recently we heard from Dr. Brad Klontz, about how we pass on money scripts to our children. And then we talked with Dr. Allison Pugh about the meaning children make out of the messages they receive about material goods. And then Dr. Esther Rozendaal on how children's brains process advertising. And in between we looked at what research there is on how to set up a playroom, which has of course many links with the items that we buy and use. And so finally, we're here today with Dr. Suzanna Opree to bring the discussion up to a level that kind of draws all this together as we try and understand what materialism is, and how we pass it on to our children and what we can do if we don't want our children to be very materialistic. Dr. Opree is Senior Assistant Professor of quantitative methods in the department of Media and Communication at Erasmus University Rotterdam. Her research focuses on the effect of advertising and commercial media on use, materialism, and well-being. Welcome Dr. Opree!
Dr. Opree 03:00
Thank you for having me.
Okay, so I wonder if we could start with something that seems as though it should be kind of simple. And then it turned out that it wasn't. Can you define materialism for us? Because I would, as I was reading through the literature, I found at least six different definitions of it.
Dr. Opree 03:15
Yeah, there are indeed many definitions. Luckily, though, some scholars have already tried to make sense of all those different definitions. And so I myself always go by the work of Richins and Dawson, and they say that materialism is basically three things. So first, it's finding possessions important and just wanting to collect as many possessions as you can. That's the first thing. The second thing is that you actually think that these possessions will make you happier, and not only in the short term, but also in the long run. And so that's basically one of the motivators for actually collecting possessions. And then the third one has to do more with impression management, so to say. So it's that you want to have possessions for adults to basically impress all the others around you. So think of having a big house, having a big car. As for children, and it's that, so getting items that will make you popular among your peers, but also just the belonging and fitting in, which I know you talked about earlier in the podcast series as well. That's important for children as well.
[caption id="attachment_6253" align="aligncenter" width="1024"] According to Richins and Dawson, materialism is basically three things. (1) Finding possessions important and wanting to collect as much as you can, (2) thinking possessions will make you happier, (3) having possessions to basically impress others around you.[/caption]
Yeah, yeah, that definitely came out in our episode with Dr. Pugh. So, um, so I'm glad that you are using one of the definitions that I had found instead of springing a new one on me. And so I'm curious as to how you landed on that one instead of some of the others that I mean, one of them says that materialism is a personality trait. Other people think it's a feature of people's identities or a set of attitudes about money and wealth. What is it about this particular definition that speaks to you more than some of the others?
Dr. Opree 04:53
Well, I think it also captures the first two that you're referring to. So when we talk about it as a personality traits I do think materialism is something that's inherent or characters and all of us are materialistic to some extent or another. However, in that research, it's often combined with other character traits. So they talk that materialism is paired with possessiveness, for instance, and non-generosity, envy. And I don't think all naturalistic kids or people actually have these personality traits, but we use possessions as part of our identity. So I do think that part is true, especially in a consumer culture that we have today. Basically, anything you own is a choice. So back in the day, like to my students I always compare it to buying a car. A couple of decades ago, there was one car that you could buy like the Model-T Ford was the only one made available and it had just one color and that was it. Whereas if you go buy a car today, there are so many different each brand has so many different models and so many different colors or color combinations. And that whatever you choose then becomes a signaling of your identity, so to say.
Yeah, and I think that's particularly, it's interesting that you brought up the example of cars. I was just talking about this the other day, about how so many cars are essentially the same car with the same chassis, the same engine with a different, you know, wrapper on the outside. Yes, designed to appeal to some particular aspect of our taste. So yeah, and so I'm always trying to look back to previous episodes, and we did one recently on the topic of patriarchy and I was really interested to draw a connection between some research on that and something that I pulled out of the literature on materialism because one of the authors I was reading had argued that materialism and consumerism have feminizing effects on men. And I'm going to quote this by setting up a narrative linking identity or sorry, linking masculinity, rebellion and integrity on one side and femininity, conformity, domestication and commercialization on the other. Production is active while consumption is passive. The consumer is deceived by advertising into purchasing things she doesn't really need, and this femininity is contagious. So men might also find themselves subject to the hypnoidal trance. I mean, what do you make of that? I am trying to square that with the research that says that men are actually slightly more materialistic than women I think.
Dr. Opree 07:25
They are. Yeah, yeah. For me, it was a very interesting point of view, actually a new one for me. So if I actually look at the literature. So Tim Kasser, for instance, has a yeah has worked on the topic of materialism for many years, as well. And he also studies, he linked it to capitalism, basically. And he, I believe, last year also released a book called Hyper-Capitalism, which is great. It's actually a comic book telling you everything about materialism or what you need to know. But what he also explains there, is that he links it to capitalism, but he's saying so materialism often has is occurring in capitalist societies where there's also a huge emphasis on a succession of our success and ambition, of status, wealth. And that's actually if we look at intercultural research, those kinds of societies are actually classified as being more masculine. So there is more emphasis on being the best, so to say then taking care of each other. And so we also see that in countries where actually there is less capitalism and less materialism, that there is, for instance, yeah, more emphasis on values such as harmony and equality, social justice, so this part about how materialism could be. Yeah. How did you call it? Feminizing?
Dr. Opree 08:52
To me, that's an interesting point of view that I will definitely explore further, but that I wasn't familiar with.
Yeah, it almost seems as though the men are looking to the, I mean, it's sort of a cycle that men are advertising to the women who of course most advertising agencies are mostly run by men and are predominantly populated by men, and so they're creating these advertisements for women and saying, well, you're listening to this stuff and, and you're being hypnotized by it and your feminizing us. There was some kind of strange circular logic in it to me as well. So, okay, that brings us to the question of why do we care about materialism? Why does it matter? So let's start with how materialism is linked to well-being what do you see there?
Dr. Opree 09:32
Yeah, so there's actually an interesting link. So in my research has always distinguished well-being from life satisfaction, which are two different things. So well-being are basically all the conditions that needs to be met in order for you to become a happy individual. And what we see in research among adults is that adults who are more materialistic, they become less satisfied with their lives over time and it also works the other way around. So if as an adult, you're less satisfied, then you'll also grow to become more materialistic, as a sort of coping mechanism. And we observe this coping mechanism in children as well. So we see that if children are unhappy that then they are more materialistic. They're also more susceptible to the effects of advertising, but not the other way around. So if they're materialistic, as kids, they will not become less satisfied.
All right. So let's dig into that a little bit. Then. What specifically do you find, I guess I'm not sure if this research has been done on children, but are there links between I guess its well-being as you're defining it rather than life satisfaction and materialism? Do we see a lot of negative impacts there? Or are there some positive ones as well, maybe?
Dr. Opree 10:49
Well, actually, that's still partly to be explored. So we aren't too sure yet how that works together. But we do see that that link between materialism and life satisfaction.
Yeah, I was thinking about research on things like depression, and anxiety, and narcissism, and substance abuse.
Dr. Opree 11:07
Well, there's research on that. Yeah. Okay, that's and a very specific form of people's mental well-being basically. That if you look at research on self-esteem, for instance, then we do see that youth or adults with less self-esteem, they become more materialistic as well. Similarly, in my own research, I also found that children who experience a big life events, so this could be moving to a new town, but it could also be experiencing someone getting sick in their families, for instance, and then they become more materialistic as well. So for kids, as somehow these possessions seem like a way out in order to feel better.
Yeah, and just thinking about the literature on divorce on that as well because I know there's research on divorce and materialism. I'm not sure the extent to which the parents drive this by seeing that the child's unhappy and buying them things as a tool to kind of express, you know, I still love you even though we're not together. And do you think that there is an element of the parents are driving this or it does it come from the children who are looking to possessions where they feel as though something is missing from other aspects of their life? Or is it kind of a circular process again, there?
Dr. Opree 12:26
Yeah, well, so one of those life events is also divorce. So we also included that in our research, and then again, we did see that the children whose parents were divorced, that indeed, they would become more materialistic as well. Part of it is compensation. I think, also because if you're spending less time with your kids, sometimes that is the outcome of divorce as well. You may want to compensate a little bit for your absence. And to a certain extent, like I wouldn't say that that's all that. I just think you need to be aware of the kind of message that you're giving out and also the kind of message you give out while doing so. So it's okay for instance, if you want to create a new bedroom in your house, if you want your kids to feel safe and secure in a new home, then yeah, I don't see the harm in getting them new possessions.
Okay. And then sort of heading back up to the broader theme, I was really interested to see that materialistic values are associated with making more anti-social and self-centered decisions. And some people had done some fascinating studies on things like changing price tags on merchandising, I think this was a survey where they asked people if they'd ever done this or knowingly used an expired coupon which gosh, I've done behaving in less pro social and more selfish ways. What links do you see there?
Dr. Opree 13:50
Yeah, with that type of research, I always wonder myself, is it then materialism or maybe a personality trait that is related to materialism. So in my own research within adolescence, we saw that adolescent kids who are more materialistic, tend to be more narcissistic and entitled as well. And so, especially imagine that something like entitlement would perhaps make a bigger difference there than materialism. So if you change the price tag, if you want to get it cheaper, it's probably because you feel like that's the price that's right for you or that you're sort of justifying it maybe in that way. So I think it's it has to do with something linked to materialism rather than materialism itself.
Yeah. And of course, that gets to the point of correlation rather than causation, doesn't it? The research shows that and I had written down materialistic values are associated with making more of these decisions. And because if we if we just sort of do a survey, we're finding that these two things vary together, but we can't say that it's the materialism that's causing the unethical behavior, and it could, in fact be other things that the researchers weren't even looking at. So, yeah, yeah. Okay, so that's sort of a fair bit on the personal stuff. And of course, there are other reasons as well related to the environment. And the amount of waste that it produces, which we don't ever really see, you know, when we throw our device away, or whatever, I think is a way we're throwing away a small fraction of the complete amount of waste that was created in the lifecycle of the product. What do you see about how people who have materialistic values view nature and see these circumstances?
Dr. Opree 15:37
Yeah, well, I think this partly has to do with consumer culture as well. So in a sense that if we look at the way our countries have changed over the years, and also how production processes have changed, so I myself, for instance, I grew up in a small town, and we had a big agricultural sector and there was a lot of these greenhouses as well. So there was actually produce being grown nearby. But if you go there now it's all suburbs like all these fields are gone. And so even though we grew up, like seeing what's happening, really knowing where produce come from, I can imagine the same like if you grow up near farms if you see animals being raised, and then the connection to nature is, of course, closer than if you live somewhere where you never observe it. And the tricky thing with the waste is that of course, we ourselves we create waste. Unfortunately, in our homes, not all foods get eaten, or indeed, we get rid of machines as well, that may be could’ve still been fixed, but it's easier just to replace it with something new that will work immediately, so to say. On the one hand is actually also part of the production process. So as I said, we're further away from it. But with all the produce for instance, we don't see the process before the store and so we're creating waste ourselves but actually the industry is also creating waste. So we have certain standards for what fruit and vegetables should look like, for instance, and anything that doesn't meet the criteria and will be cut from the process and will not make it to the stores. And so there's also ways in different parts of the process that I think can be handled as well. So that's one thing. And then on a more individual level. Yeah, it's tricky that we tend to replace things sooner than we used to.
Mm hmm. Yeah. And I had read the individuals who are focused on more materialistic values really have more of a negative attitude towards the environment. Do you think that it's just that they don't think about it as much or they think about it and they don't care...