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Economic Impact of a Materialistic Society.

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The Numerical Impact & History Of A Materialistic Society


Author Note


This paper utilizes four published research articles and six online renowned articles that contain relevant information and reports on how various materialistic spending and reasoning has impacted numerous societies over different times in history. The piece will compare and contrast the benefits of unnecessary spending on an economy as well as one’s state of mind. It’ll also delve in to the common practice of obtaining material for impression purposes and the benefits or lack thereof of doing so. The paper will also draw common correlation between jewelry and society all over history to modern daytime to find the more significant aspect to a society between living and impression.

Centuries of historical documents suggest that a materialistic society causes a population to be more unhappy, divided and non-beneficial because of its emphasis on overvaluing items in the process of finding happiness. The emphasis on earning our peers acceptance through materials would lead us to achieve further happiness but statistics prove other wise. In ancient Rome, Asia and Africa along with medieval Europe there has been recorded history of how excess goods and jewelry were used to accentuate their self-importance and status to others. In modern time we find ourselves shopping, adding unnecessary expenses to our lives during the holiday seasons to reach a level of acceptance by our family and friends. The shopping adds high boost to our domestic economy in return. Is it acceptable to prioritize appealing to others with our wants over obtaining our needs? The world is full of natural resources that are vital to our existence it has also unfortunately been filled with man-made items that are over-valued and under-useful. The most classic of these resources would be the use of minerals and precious stones that we find below the planet’s soil. Even in the most restricted of times society found a way to be materialistic (Cartwright, 2014) “Electrum (the natural alloy of gold and silver) was used in jewelry by the Egyptians from 5000 BCE. Gold jewelry was worn by both men and women in the Sumer civilization around 3000 BCE and gold chains were first produced in the city of Ur in 2500 BCE”. Gold is the most dominate metal in history being used as an accessory to backing of currency. Geologist Hobart King provides some background information on the importance of gold (King, 2014) “The first known use of gold in transactions dates back over 6000 years. Early transactions were done using pieces of gold or pieces of silver. The rarity, usefulness and desirability of gold make it a substance of long-term value… Some early printings of paper money were backed by gold held in safe keeping for every unit of money that was placed in circulation. The United States once used a "gold standard" and maintained a stockpile of gold to back every dollar in circulation.” A whole empire was once ran behind the existence of that empire’s gold inventory, that there puts the whole belief of people valuing worthless items in to tighter perspective. If we as people once put a nation’s economic state on a mineral found in the dirt we’ll inevitably do similar to elements in our personal lives. We as a society find ourselves chasing a more expensive lifestyle than we could realistically afford in hopes to obtaining happiness from these materialistic items. In the process of doing so we dig ourselves in avoidable debt that we most often cannot pull ourselves out leading to other problems in our everyday lives. In a research done by the Board of Government of the Federal Reserve System regarding the national spending habit they found that (Snyder, 2014) “over the past 50 years, the total amount of debt in the U.S. has grown from less than a trillion dollars to nearly 55 trillion dollars.” Thus leading to other problems that prove to have a correlation to debt such as divorce. The same research found that in the same time frame of the rise of debt so has the rate of divorce (Snyder, 2014) According to the Pew Research Center (Parker, 2011); only 51 percent of all American adults are currently married. Back in 1960, 72 percent of all adults in America were married. The entire statistical decline in the given categories can point to a reasonable conclusion that we as a population are not as happy as we once were. The idea of hoarding an excess of goods or displaying lavish purchases as a means of expressing ones status is not a new ideology. All throughout history there has been recorded instances of where the wealthier would boast their wealth to the poor. For example, in the early 1300’s in Europe many of the royal families and merchant put an emphasis on holding on to jewelry, (Garlande, 2014) “Kings and princes, great noblemen and even rich merchants invariably kept a store of precious and semi-precious stones and cameos. By merchants and those noblemen, who had relatively little jewelry, stones were kept as a reserve of valuables but in noble and princely circles they were stored for use in jewelry and plate or to give away as presents. Precious stones were often given as presents at weddings and at New Year and on other occasions.” So even in the time of plagues and lack of the daily privileges that we have now such as electricity, the majority of the population still put more value on something that has no function such as precious stones rather than something beneficial for the common good of the people. The way of thinking does not just apply to ancient European times and the monarchy but also to thousands of miles east to ancient Asia where the same practices were also performed. In one of Peter Stearns famous pieces of literature he dives in to it, (Stearns, 1996) “There, by the time of the Tokugawa in the sixteenth century, the imperial court in Kyoto was dominated protocol, with dress styles governed by strict rules of etiquette but in more commercial cities.” He really puts the seriousness of the idea in context by mentioning (Stearns, 1996) “Not just materialistic critique, but outright attack in the name of more traditional values… Yang Kuei-fei, the striking fashion leader and royal consort was put to death by disapproving court officials.” People were executed in ancient Asia for their clothing proving that we as humans have always been too materialistic. The ideology of perception of material that was apparent in past history has been passed down as a trait to current times. The contagious thinking of different items having different meanings can me a damaging way of life. Many people alter their lifestyle just off their beliefs that different object holds various symbols. On an experiment trip in India, Professor Nicole Boivin observed an interesting habit in which villagers would use different materials to build their huts with beliefs different Gods would be helping their homes because of their decisions to use the given materials. Though using some materials would not prove more beneficial than using others yet the people still followed this belief. After this observation Boivin came to a conclusion and turn around in her research in which she sums up as; (Boivin, 2008) “It was this recognition that material culture is in some way distinctive from other aspects of cultural world that led me to begin to question the focus on symbolism & meaning that had become the orthodoxy within British Archaeological theory”. So the process of valuing things from a spiritual value to a monetary value is evident everywhere yet the obvious happiness of the people is not consistent. In the more develop world we hold obsessions with brands and their spokes models or creators. We then hope to obtain some of their likeness and happiness through the purchase of their products. We often forget that these people are humans like us and do not deserve to be put on such a pedestal, as Tim Dant stated (Dant, 2005) “Just as our everyday lives adapt to standards of hygiene and cleanliness that are partly ideological and partly emergent from material possibilities, so those who deliver these systems are alert to the impact they have. Herbert Blumer argued that fashion designers were best seen as the mediators of the extant culture in expressing a ‘collective taste’ rather than as innovators or originators”. Further assuring the belief we should value materials as just materials and nothing beyond it.

This then correlates to modern time, in which we often get our perception through what we see on the daily basis. A majority falls on the tactics of advertisers and their efficiency to sway our perception. For example in one of Marsha Richins research she found that (Richins, 1987) Many critics have suggested that advertising increases materialism among consumers for instance, makes the accusation that advertising influences people to find life's meaning in the products they purchase and that advertising... manufactures a product of its own: the consumer, perpetually unsatisfied, restless, anxious, and bored. Advertising serves not so much to advertise products as to promote consumption as a way of life.” This leaves the mind in a conditioned state by seeing peers perception of a product and basing their perception by that observation. As a result we instinctively compare quality and worth of an item to its price. Which at times can be very misguided for example in one research article conducted by Peep Laja he examine the truth behind the phenomena (Laja, 2014) “It’s about the contrast. Nothing is cheap or expensive by itself, but compared to something. Once you’ve seen a $150 burger on the menu, $50 sounds reasonable for a steak. At Ralph Lauren, that $16,995 bag makes a $98 T-shirt look cheap. What’s the best way to sell a $2000 wristwatch? Right next to a $12000 watch… It’s called anchoring and adjustment.” All this leads to a pattern of people over valuing what they see in hopes for temporary satisfaction.

With all the historical negative connotations associated with being a materialistically heavy society there are the beneficial side of it. The most apparent circumstance of this is the idea of holiday shopping. The impression of holiday shopping is that we buy numerous items we do not necessarily need in life for others for their appeasement and nothing substantial to our survival. On the contrary the boost in shopping provides a spike in jobs along with spending in the economy every year as stated in this article regarding holiday shopping (Tejada, 2014) “The National Retail Federation revised its holiday sales forecast upwards from 2.8 percent (which it had forecast in October) to 3.8 percent, for a record $469.1 billion.” The recorded number are always on rise every year associated with holiday shopping along with credit spending, (Tejada, 2014) “Trish Regan, business analyst and journalist, reports that more shoppers are also using credit cards at a rate of 7.4 percent more than last year. Debit card purchases are up 3.4 percent over last year as well” hinting to the undertone that we unnecessarily spend what we do not have and as a result dig ourselves a financial hole. The boost of jobs is a benefit to the people but it comes at the cost of some of our peers to suffer financial stress.

All the research points to humans and materialism go hand in hand. It is prevalent all throughout our history from the Egyptians to the Europeans to modern day Americans. The thinking of happiness being a result of having more is also debunked by the recent research in modern households structure correlating with unfortunate spending habits. Although spending more is often beneficial to the wider population of people economic wise that positive is dampen by the fact many people burden themselves commercially which in the end is avoidable. Aside from the statistical proof of a materialistic society being a problematic one there is also the inexorable fact that others inherit the materialistic mentality that is detrimental to society. Being overly materialistic might bring temporary satisfaction at the price of long-term encumbrance as a society.

Boivin, Nicole. (2008) The Pursuit of Symbols in Western India. Material Culture Material Minds. 1, 2-10

In the introduction chapter of Boivin’s book she provides the readers a look into what she did to find how the basic living situation of a whole other country was a contrast to the living privileges in the states. She examines the humble living of those in western India and their happiness in contrast to the entitled attitudes observed in more developed countries. The prestigious Cambridge University Press publishes Boivin book and she has her Ph. D. She conducts her own experiment in observing a society that has a lesser emphasis on material items, which will enhance my argument greatly in proving that a culture based on material things is a hollow culture.

Cartwright, Mark. Gold In Antiquity. Retrieved on November 9, 2014, from

Cartwright provides an article for this website that is full of ancient history readings full of historic facts and recordings. In this article he goes over the many uses jewelry had in ancient Rome, Africa and other historic area of the BCE time. He glistens over the use of gold as currency and religious artifacts while also providing us with some insight on how different cultures and had different beliefs towards the use of gold in their society. is a site full of articles in which writers provide a look into the past life in the BCE time and beyond.

Dant, Tim (2005). British Journal of Sociology. Materiality and Civilization (2): 289-308

In this part of the British Journal of Sociology Dant explores the world that subconsciously is affected by flash. All throughout history he explains how peoples perception of others would inevitably impact how they would react to each other. As a Ph. D graduate of Lancaster University Dant did a reputable job in displaying past and modern impact of peoples’ perception of materials in their everyday lives. The numerous examples Dant presented goes hand in hand with the argument that I am trying to convey to my readers.

Garlande, Jean, Economic and Social Value of Jewelry. Retrieved November 10, 2014 from

This site is strictly dedicated to the ancient history of the monarchy of Europe and jewelry. The site is a Central European University website comprised of various subcategories regarding jewelry of the time. It covers everything from the materials it was made from, the symbolism each stoned had along with the value both socially and economically the stones carried. Garlande offers an abundance amount of information on how jewelry was used as status symbols of the times everything from proving how well off you was to knight initiation. All this is useful to my argument on these useless stones displays our social status to others.

Laja, Peep. Pricing Experiment You May Not Know. Retrieved November 9, 2014 from

Laja is an optimization expert and a renowned entrepreneur. Laja has done international marketing for over a decade with experience with success at the highest level. Laja’s piece breaks down the false sense of satisfaction of pricing we get when we shop. The writer elaborates how simple imaging and use of various fonts or numbers can make a variety of products seem more desirable than others. His piece is not as relatable to my stance from a direct materialism stand point but does offer ample information that could be utilized by both sides of the argument from a perception stand point.

King, Hobart. The Many Uses of Gold. Retrieved on November 9, 2014, from

King is a geologist and part of the West Virginia Geological and Economic survey. Hobart provides a thorough list how gold has been put to use over time. Everything from fashion statements to powering an economy. He breaks down how at different time periods how substantial it is to have gold as part of life. He doesn’t delve into too many details but enough to give the reader context of the benefits gold has had in history. is full of artifacts involving the history of precious minerals which will enhance my argument how we value minerals so highly in society.

Marsha L. Richins (1987),"Media, Materialism, and Human Happiness", in NA - Advances in Consumer Research Volume 14, Eds. Melanie Wallendorf and Paul Anderson, Provo, UT: Association for Consumer Research, Pages: 352-356

Marsha Richins was a graduate student at Louisiana State University at the time of her writing this piece. The writing gives a very delicate and thought out research of how the advertising of numerous products correlates to the people having a longing for those items. Richins offer statistical data along with numerous quotes for past research involving the same concept. She find that the more we see the media promoting a product the more we think we need those products in our lives thus depending our happiness on obtaining these materialistic and some time worthless objects. Richins piece give extensive support, both numerically and facts-wise, behind my stance on humans over valuing worthless items.

Parker, Kim (2011),, “Marriage”, Retrieved on November 10, 2014 from

Kim Parker is the Social Trend department Director at the Pew Research Center. The Pew Research Center is a public fact hub that is composed of self conducted opinion polling, demographic research, media content along with numerous other social science research. In this project Parker has analyzed to current trend marriage of Americans as it relates to our modern lifestyles. The facts she provides is beneficial to my stance on how different aspects of our modern life can be detrimental to our happiness.
Stearns, Peter (2006), “The Rich and Consumption, Before Modern”, Consumerism in World History. Pages: 7-16.

Peter Stearns book explores the history that people has in dwelling into consumerism. He particularizes the people of ancient Rome along with ancient China and their similar ways of flaunting excess amount of goods in front of others to provide a sense importance like we do now with currency. Stearns also mentions how consumerism is only evident in society that is not run on agriculture. The points he provided give my stance on materialism a great reference point on how we value useless items in our everyday lives to strictly impress others momentarily.

Snyder, Michael,, is America the Most Materialistic Society in The History of the World? Retrieved November 10, 2014 from

Michael Snyder is an economical columnist based in the United States that frequently analyzes the current state of our country’s economy. This piece Snyder puts together paints the current picture of how the wealthiest of Americans, especially the teenagers, are constantly boasting the amount of lavish items they have to the rest of the world thanks to social media. He goes on to break down number of their spending impacts the economy both negatively and positively. He also counters that buying these expensive items do not result in pure happiness and offers numbers to prove the unhappiness associated with Americans. Snyder’s work provides backing of both sides of my thesis, the one for unnecessary spending and the one that shows that materials provides necessary economic gains from spending.

Tejada, Alicia & Winick, TJ, Increase in Holiday Shopping. Retrieved November 10, 2014 from

The authors of this piece all work for ABC news a reputable national news site. They collaborate on this article to spread the awareness of the positive impact that holiday shopping has on the economy. Though this article is from a few years ago it is still relevant in current time. They elaborate on how the increase in spending boosts the country’s economic state. Though their points though work in my favor in my thesis it does present positive evidence for the counter argument. Which is that any spending at all will benefit the greater good even if it’s on useless, shallow products.…...

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