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Signalling to whom? Conspicuous spending and the local density of the social group income distribution

  • Andreas Chai
  • Wolfhard Kaus

We empirically evaluate two competing explanations about how the dispersion of income within social groups affects household spending on visible goods. Using South African household expenditure data, we find evidence that precisely the reverse of the effect predicted by Charles et al. (2009) takes place in that rich households tend to reduce, rather than increase, spending on visible goods as the dispersion of social group income increases. Our results instead support rank-based models of status competition since the number of within-group peers who possess a similar income level is found to be positively correlated with household spending on visible goods. Moreover, we find that the effect of this 'local' density tends to be stronger in the tail regions of the distribution and performs better than other proxies for the overall income distribution used in recent studies. How the range of visible goods used to signal wealth expands as household income grows is also explored.

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File URL: ftp://137.248.191.199/RePEc/esi/discussionpapers/2012-18.pdf
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Paper provided by Philipps University Marburg, Department of Geography in its series Papers on Economics and Evolution with number 2012-18.

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Length: 28 pages
Date of creation: 29 Jan 2013
Date of revision:
Handle: RePEc:esi:evopap:2012-18
Contact details of provider: Postal: Deutschhausstrasse 10, 35032 Marburg
Phone: 064212824257
Fax: 064212828950
Web page: http://www.uni-marburg.de/fb19/
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  17. Ed Hopkins & Tatiana Kornienko, 2004. "Running to Keep in the Same Place: Consumer Choice as a Game of Status," ESE Discussion Papers 92, Edinburgh School of Economics, University of Edinburgh.
  18. Chao, Angela & Schor, Juliet B., 1998. "Empirical tests of status consumption: Evidence from women's cosmetics," Journal of Economic Psychology, Elsevier, vol. 19(1), pages 107-131, February.
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