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Material possessions as stereotypes: Material images of different socio-economic groups

Journal of Economic Psychology
Publication Date
DOI: 10.1016/0167-4870(94)90011-6
  • Economics
  • Psychology


Abstract Given that material possessions can serve as symbolic markers of group membership, the present study investigates the existence and extent of consensual stereotypes about different socio-economic groups in Britain in terms of material objects. In order to examine whether such descriptions can be regarded as material stereotypes, the five possessions that 36 business commuters, 50 unemployed people and 40 students listed as most important for themselves were compared with the objects that they thought typical members of the other two groups would treasure. Findings from both quantitative, multivariate and qualitative, descriptive analyses demonstrate that the material possession descriptions fulfil a range of relevant criteria, derived from social psychological work on stereotypes. Most importantly, (i) objects listed for self were varied, whereas those for other groups consisted of a limited number of typical items, and (ii) while the three groups overlapped in the types of possessions listed for themselves (despite some differences in the personal meanings they attached to these possessions), material stereotypes differed rather markedly, particularly along the dimensions of relative wealth and employment status. These results are discussed in terms of the role material objects are likely to play as devices for locating other people in the socio-material hierarchy of stratified, materialistic cultures, and how they may structure our perception of social and economic reality.

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