IDEAS home Printed from
   My bibliography  Save this paper

The Social Contingency of Wants Implications for Growth and the Environment




Economic models typically assume that individual wants are determined by forces exogenous to the economic system. Social psychology and consumer research, in contrast, support the view that the perceived benefits of consumption are strongly affected by endogenously determined social norms. This paper presents a selective overview of the literature on the relationship between consumption and well-being, exploring the ways in which informal arguments from the descriptive social sciences might be linked to formal models of economic behavior. We incorporate Sen's (1985) distinction between commodities and functionings into Nordhaus' (1994) model of climate change and the world economy, showing that optimal paths for greenhouse gas emissions and capital accumulation are highly sensitive to the role of consumption norms in the welfare determination.

Suggested Citation

  • Kjell Arne Brekke & Richard B. Howarth, 1998. "The Social Contingency of Wants Implications for Growth and the Environment," Discussion Papers 227, Statistics Norway, Research Department.
  • Handle: RePEc:ssb:dispap:227

    Download full text from publisher

    File URL:
    Download Restriction: no

    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Oswald, Andrew J, 1997. "Happiness and Economic Performance," Economic Journal, Royal Economic Society, vol. 107(445), pages 1815-1831, November.
    2. Smith, Adam, 1977. "An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations," University of Chicago Press Economics Books, University of Chicago Press, number 9780226763743 edited by Cannan, Edwin, February.
    3. Kjell Arne Brekke & Richard B. Howarth & Karine Nyborg, 1998. "Are there Social Limits to Growth?," Discussion Papers 239, Statistics Norway, Research Department.
    4. Sen, Amartya, 1983. "Poor, Relatively Speaking," Oxford Economic Papers, Oxford University Press, vol. 35(2), pages 153-169, July.
    5. Ng, Yew-Kwang & Wang, Jianguo, 1993. "Relative income, aspiration, environmental quality, individual and political myopia : Why may the rat-race for material growth be welfare-reducing?," Mathematical Social Sciences, Elsevier, vol. 26(1), pages 3-23, July.
    6. Howarth, Richard B., 1996. "Status effects and environmental externalities," Ecological Economics, Elsevier, vol. 16(1), pages 25-34, January.
    Full references (including those not matched with items on IDEAS)


    Citations are extracted by the CitEc Project, subscribe to its RSS feed for this item.

    Cited by:

    1. Olof Johansson-Stenman, 2002. "Estimating individual driving distance by car and public transport use in Sweden," Applied Economics, Taylor & Francis Journals, vol. 34(8), pages 959-967.
    2. Richard B. Howarth & Kjell Arne Brekke, 1998. "Status Preferences and Economic Growth," Discussion Papers 240, Statistics Norway, Research Department.
    3. Kverndokk, Snorre, 2009. "Why do people demand health?," HERO On line Working Paper Series 2000:5, Oslo University, Health Economics Research Programme.

    More about this item


    Functionings; socially contingent wants; positional goods; greenhouse problem;

    JEL classification:

    • D11 - Microeconomics - - Household Behavior - - - Consumer Economics: Theory
    • D60 - Microeconomics - - Welfare Economics - - - General
    • Q00 - Agricultural and Natural Resource Economics; Environmental and Ecological Economics - - General - - - General


    Access and download statistics


    All material on this site has been provided by the respective publishers and authors. You can help correct errors and omissions. When requesting a correction, please mention this item's handle: RePEc:ssb:dispap:227. See general information about how to correct material in RePEc.

    For technical questions regarding this item, or to correct its authors, title, abstract, bibliographic or download information, contact: (L Maasø). General contact details of provider: .

    If you have authored this item and are not yet registered with RePEc, we encourage you to do it here. This allows to link your profile to this item. It also allows you to accept potential citations to this item that we are uncertain about.

    If CitEc recognized a reference but did not link an item in RePEc to it, you can help with this form .

    If you know of missing items citing this one, you can help us creating those links by adding the relevant references in the same way as above, for each refering item. If you are a registered author of this item, you may also want to check the "citations" tab in your RePEc Author Service profile, as there may be some citations waiting for confirmation.

    Please note that corrections may take a couple of weeks to filter through the various RePEc services.

    IDEAS is a RePEc service hosted by the Research Division of the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis . RePEc uses bibliographic data supplied by the respective publishers.