Consumption and Lifestyles

In understanding inequality, it is important to consider not only differences in people's income (i.e., income inequality), but also differences in the goods and services they purchase with their income, wealth, and borrowed money (i.e., consumption inequality). The scholarship within this research area focuses on class differences in the amount of consumption as well as class differences in the type of consumption.

Amount of consumption

How do trends in consumption inequality compare to trends in income inequality? Is the upward trend in consumption inequality as dramatic as the upward trend in income inequality? Are those at the bottom of the income distribution borrowing ever more to finance increasing perceived needs? Are middle-class workers going into debt to mimic the lifestyles of the rich?

Type of consumption

How different are the lifestyles and consumption practices of the poor from those of the rich? Do members of the upper classes, for example, routinely attend operas and other high-status cultural events to signal their privilege? At the bottom of the class structure, are distinctive goods and services (e.g., clothing, music) likewise used as signals of affiliation? Is cultural inequality of this sort intensifying? Are there any hints of a backlash against conspicuous consumption?

"When the rich wage war it is the poor who die." - Jean-Paul Sartre


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