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Conspicuous consumption and “race”: Evidence from South Africa

  • Kaus, Wolfhard

A century ago, Thorstein Veblen introduced socially contingent consumption into the economic literature. This paper complements the scarce empirical literature by testing his conjecture on South African household data and finds that Black and Coloured households spend relatively more on visible consumption than comparable White households. Following the approach of Charles et al. (2009), this paper explores whether the differences in visible expenditures can be explained with a signaling model of status seeking. Moreover, it is assessed to which extent positional concerns motivate conspicuous consumption. Although the socially contingent share in visible consumption increases with income, different incentives to consume conspicuously seem to explain that, at every level of income, Black households spend relatively more on visible consumption than comparable White households. In contrast to the findings of Charles et al. (2009) where differential spending on conspicuous consumption can be found also within each group separately, the model's core hypothesis fails to hold within the group of White South Africans.

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Article provided by Elsevier in its journal Journal of Development Economics.

Volume (Year): 100 (2013)
Issue (Month): 1 ()
Pages: 63-73

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Handle: RePEc:eee:deveco:v:100:y:2013:i:1:p:63-73
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