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Conspicuous consumption and “race”: Evidence from South Africa

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  • Kaus, Wolfhard

Abstract

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.

Suggested Citation

  • Kaus, Wolfhard, 2013. "Conspicuous consumption and “race”: Evidence from South Africa," Journal of Development Economics, Elsevier, vol. 100(1), pages 63-73.
  • Handle: RePEc:eee:deveco:v:100:y:2013:i:1:p:63-73 DOI: 10.1016/j.jdeveco.2012.07.004
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    Cited by:

    1. Leonhard K. Lades, 2012. "The impact of differential satiation dynamics on changing consumer behavior, wellbeing, and innovative activity," Papers on Economics and Evolution 2012-16, Philipps University Marburg, Department of Geography.
    2. Danzer, Alexander M. & Dietz, Barbara & Gatskova, Ksenia & Schmillen, Achim, 2014. "Showing off to the new neighbors? Income, socioeconomic status and consumption patterns of internal migrants," Journal of Comparative Economics, Elsevier, vol. 42(1), pages 230-245.
    3. repec:bof:bofitp:urn:nbn:fi:bof-201508181355 is not listed on IDEAS
    4. Tim Friehe & Mario Mechtel, 2012. "Conspicuous Consumption and Communism: Evidence from East and West Germany," IAAEU Discussion Papers 201203, Institute of Labour Law and Industrial Relations in the European Union (IAAEU).
    5. Armando Memushi, 2014. "Conspicuous Consumption and Albanians: Determinant Factors," South-Eastern Europe Journal of Economics, Association of Economic Universities of South and Eastern Europe and the Black Sea Region, vol. 12(1), pages 65-87.
    6. Sugata Marjit & Arijit Mukherjee & Koushik Kumar Hati, 2015. "Relative Social Status and Conflicting Measures of Poverty: A Behavioural Analytical Model," Discussion Papers 2015-02, University of Nottingham, GEP.
    7. Andreas Chai & Wolfhard Kaus, 2013. "Signalling to whom? Conspicuous spending and the local density of the social group income distribution," Papers on Economics and Evolution 2012-18, Philipps University Marburg, Department of Geography.
    8. Leonhard Lades, 2013. "Explaining shapes of Engel curves: the impact of differential satiation dynamics on consumer behavior," Journal of Evolutionary Economics, Springer, vol. 23(5), pages 1023-1045, November.
    9. Santra, Sattwik & Chaudhury, Ranajoy, 2015. "The American Pride and Aspiration," MPRA Paper 61649, University Library of Munich, Germany.
    10. Ciarli, Tommaso & Valente, Marco, 2016. "The complex interactions between economic growth and market concentration in a model of structural change," Structural Change and Economic Dynamics, Elsevier, vol. 38(C), pages 38-54.
    11. Christopher P Roth, 2014. "Conspicuous Consumption and Peer Effects among the Poor: Evidence From a Field Experiment," CSAE Working Paper Series 2014-29, Centre for the Study of African Economies, University of Oxford.
    12. Undurraga, Eduardo A. & Nica, Veronica & Zhang, Rebecca & Mensah, Irene C. & Godoy, Ricardo A., 2016. "Individual health and the visibility of village economic inequality: Longitudinal evidence from native Amazonians in Bolivia," Economics & Human Biology, Elsevier, vol. 23(C), pages 18-26.
    13. Christopher P. Roth, 2014. "Conspicuous Consumption and Peer Effects among the Poor: Evidence From a Field Experiment," Economics Series Working Papers WPS/2014-29, University of Oxford, Department of Economics.
    14. Li, Li & Mak, Eric & Pivovarova, Margarita, 2016. "Conspicuous Consumption and Within-Group Income Inequality," MPRA Paper 83338, University Library of Munich, Germany.
    15. Ronelle Burger & Megan Louw & Brigitte Barbara Isabel de Oliveira Pegado & Servaas van der Berg, 2015. "Understanding consumption patterns of the established and emerging South African black middle class," Development Southern Africa, Taylor & Francis Journals, vol. 32(1), pages 41-56, January.
    16. Friedrichsen, Jana, 2018. "Signals Sell: Product Lines when Consumers Differ Both in Taste for Quality and Image Concern," Rationality and Competition Discussion Paper Series 70, CRC TRR 190 Rationality and Competition.
    17. Haining Wang & Zhiming Cheng & Russell Smyth, 2015. "Does Consuming More Make You Happier? Evidence from Chinese Panel Data," Monash Economics Working Papers 29-15, Monash University, Department of Economics.
    18. Agarwal, Sumit & He, Jia & Liu, Haoming & Png, I. P. L. & Sing, Tien Foo & Wong, Wei-Kang, 2016. "Superstition, Conspicuous Spending, and Housing Markets: Evidence from Singapore," IZA Discussion Papers 9899, Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA).
    19. Armando MEMUSHI, 2013. "Conspicuous Consumption: An Empirical Investigation Of Factors Affecting Households’ Behaviour In Albania," Review of Economic and Business Studies, Alexandru Ioan Cuza University, Faculty of Economics and Business Administration, issue 12, pages 79-94, June.

    More about this item

    Keywords

    Conspicuous consumption; Signaling; Status; South Africa;

    JEL classification:

    • D12 - Microeconomics - - Household Behavior - - - Consumer Economics: Empirical Analysis
    • D83 - Microeconomics - - Information, Knowledge, and Uncertainty - - - Search; Learning; Information and Knowledge; Communication; Belief; Unawareness
    • J15 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Demographic Economics - - - Economics of Minorities, Races, Indigenous Peoples, and Immigrants; Non-labor Discrimination
    • O12 - Economic Development, Innovation, Technological Change, and Growth - - Economic Development - - - Microeconomic Analyses of Economic Development

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