The brighter side of materialism


In Asia, rapid economic growth and increasing prosperity among the middle classes have led to a surge in consumption. This is often seen as a move towards materialism and individualism. A study carried out at WU (Vienna University of Economics and Business) shows, however, that consumption in collectivist societies – i.e. societies that place the interests of the community over those of the individual – is more pro-social than in individualistic societies.

In their study, a team of researchers headed by WU Professor Bodo B. Schlegelmilch compare the values of consumers in the US to those of consumers in China, India, and Thailand. The analyses confirm that materialists living in individualistic societies make exactly the kinds of expensive purchases that are expected from a self-serving brand of materialism that most people frown upon. Materialists from collectivistic societies also tend to make pricey purchases. The key difference lies in the motivations on which these purchasing decisions are based, the researchers found out: In Asian countries, it is important to people that the purchases they make strengthen their reputation as a socially responsible member of society.

While a self-serving materialist in individualistically oriented countries might opt for a flashy sports car, for example, materialists from a collectivistic society might opt for a high-end eco-friendly vehicle, which they can enjoy together with their friends and family.

Insights into this brighter side of materialism are valuable to international businesses and organizations that are looking to engage consumers in pro-social spending, whether it is buying socially responsible goods and services or donating to charities.

About Bodo Schlegelmilch

Bodo B. Schlegelmilch is chair of the Management Board of AMBA (Association of MBAs) and head of the Institute for International Marketing Management at WU (Vienna University of Economics and Business). In addition to heading this WU institute, he also served as founding Dean of the WU Executive Academy. He established the Executive Academy’s reputation as a leading provider of executive education and headed it as Dean until 2015. Professor Schlegelmilch also founded the Vienna Executive MBA, a program held in cooperation with the University of Minnesota. Under Schlegelmilch’s leadership, the Vienna Executive MBA became a top-50 program in the Financial Times rankings.

Researcher of the Month

With the Researcher of the Month series, launched in 2016, WU honors outstanding researchers whose work has made important contributions to solving key economic, social, and legal issues. Our monthly Researcher of the Month video provides insights into the day-to-day work of our researchers and offers glimpses behind the scenes of WU’s diverse research activities.

Links for further information

Researcher of the Month video, Bodo B. Schlegelmilch
Sandra Awanis, Bodo B. Schlegelmilch, Charles Chi Cui: Asia’s materialists: Reconciling collectivism and materialism

Back to overview