Downwardly mobile: When consumer decisions are influenced by people with lower socioeconomic status

Sep 14, 2011

People assume that consumers are influenced by celebrities and high-status individuals, but according to a new study in the Journal of Consumer Research, it may be the janitor or the security guard who makes you want to run out and purchase the latest gadget.

"Consumers from a lower are not usually considered ideal influencers for higher status customers. After all, people accept influence from those they identify with—those who are similar to them or people who they aspire to be like," write authors Edith Shalev (Israel Institute of Technology) and Vicki G. Morwitz (New York University). Because people usually do not aspire to obtain a lower socioeconomic status, it seems unlikely that people would become interested in the same products as people with less status.

However, the authors discovered that under certain circumstances higher status consumers are more likely to emulate the choices of lower status people, a phenomenon called the "low status user effect." For example, observing a janitor using the latest tech gadget may lead a person of higher status to question his own technological innovativeness. "This scenario might lead the observer to think: if a lower socioeconomic status person owns the latest tech gadget and I don't, what does this mean about my relative technological innovativeness?" The authors found that the low status user effect only occurs when the product symbolizes a clear and desirable trait and when the observer is unconfident about her relative standing on that trait.

One study found that research participants showed more interest in a sophisticated T-shirt when a grocery packer wore it than when a college student donned it. Another study found the same effect for a wireless charger (used by a security guard or an architect). But the effect was found only among participants who considered technological innovativeness to be an important part of their self-definition.

Other counter-stereotypical may have influence in the marketplace, the authors explain. "A consumer who observes an elderly lady wearing professional running shoes might infer that people in general have become more athletic than before," the authors write. "In an attempt to restore a sporty self-image he may purchase new running shoes."

Explore further: New 'Surveyman' software promises to revolutionize survey design and accuracy

More information: Edith Shalev and Vicki G. Morwitz. "Influence via Comparison-Driven Self Evaluation and Restoration: The Case of the Low-Status Influencer." Journal of Consumer Research: February 2012 (published online July 25, 2011). ejcr.org

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Our own status affects the way our brains respond to others

Apr 28, 2011

Our own social status influences the way our brains respond to others of higher or lower rank, according to a new study reported online on April 28 in Current Biology. People of higher subjective socioeconomic status show g ...

The high cost of low status

Jun 26, 2008

Feeling powerless can trigger strong desires to purchase products that convey high status, according to new research in the Journal of Consumer Research.

Does equality increase status spending?

Dec 22, 2010

People are happier when goods are more equally distributed, but equality makes people want to spend more to get ahead of their neighbors, according to a new study in the Journal of Consumer Research.

Recommended for you

World population likely to peak by 2070

Oct 23, 2014

World population will likely peak at around 9.4 billion around 2070 and then decline to around 9 billion by 2100, according to new population projections from IIASA researchers, published in a new book, World Population and ...

Bullying in schools is still prevalent, national report says

Oct 23, 2014

Despite a dramatic increase in public awareness and anti-bullying legislation nationwide, the prevalence of bullying is still one of the most pressing issues facing our nation's youth, according to a report by researchers ...

Study examines effects of credentialing, personalization

Oct 23, 2014

Chris Gamrat, a doctoral student in learning, design and technology, recently had his study—completed alongside Heather Zimmerman, associate professor of education; Jaclyn Dudek, a doctoral student studying learning, design ...

User comments : 0