Keeping up with the Joneses: The Impact of Income Inequality and Socioeconomic Status on Conspicuous Consumption via Status Anxiety
Rising global income inequality has brought about a surge in conspicuous consumption. The current research aims to investigate the relationship between income inequality and conspicuous consumption and to explore the internal mechanism of this relationship. Specifically, we test the mediating role of status anxiety and the moderating role of socioeconomic status (SES). By measuring participants’ implicit tendency toward conspicuous consumption utilizing event-related brain potentials (ERP), Study 1 provides robust evidence to support the effect of perceived income inequality on individuals’ conspicuous consumption preferences. By manipulating participants’ perceived income inequality, Study 2 provides causal evidence to support the mediating role of status anxiety. Finally, Study 3 replicates the findings of Studies 1 and 2 and confirms the moderating role of SES. We find that SES weakens the mediating effect by attenuating the impact of income inequality on status anxiety. Our findings shed light on the psychological processes underlying conspicuous consumption in the context of income inequality, which has important implications for policy-makers and marketers.