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Did you know that consumption patterns are increasingly less predicted by income and age?

German Science Foundation project

Consumption patterns, i.e., how total consumption is divided among different consumption categories, are usually regarded as an indicator of a person’s lifestyle. Each person must invest a certain part of its expenses in securing its basic needs. The rest of the disposable income can either be saved or, depending on the person’s preferences, be spent on different consumption purposes. For a long time it has been a controversial question of which factors influence a person’s consumption pattern. On the one hand, it is argued that socio-demographic characteristics, in particular income, determine how we consume. On the other hand, it is pointed out that by the dissolution of traditional ties and the general increase in the standard of living, the possibilities for individual life-styles have increased and the binding character of role-specific consumption norms increasingly dissipated. This in turn results in a decay of homogeneous, class-specific consumption styles and a destratification of consumption patterns.

In a recent German Science Foundation project, Katharina Hörstermann – together with Prof. Dr. Hans-Jürgen Andreß – analyzed consumption patterns in Germany using data from the income and consumption survey of the years 1978 and 2008. Her study shows a change in the structure of consumption: expenditures on food, drinks, tobacco, clothing and footwear as well as furniture and household items were decreasing, while expenditures on housing, health and personal care, transport and news, and leisure time were increasing. They examined whether changes in the age and income distribution as well as in average household sizes in Germany between 1978 and 2008 can explain this change.

A descriptive comparison of the consumption patterns of different birth cohorts controlling for age, income and household size showed different patterns between cohorts that could ot be explained by effects of age, income, or household size. The results of a decomposition analysis, which kept the distribution of age, income and household size constant between 1978 and 2008, confirmed this result: socio-demographic changes are not able to explain the aforementioned shifts in the expenditure shares of different consumption categories. Much more, it seems that people have more possibilities to align their spending profile more strongly according to their own preferences.

Did you know that …?
On the website of the Institute of Sociology and Social Psychology (ISS) researchers report regularly on their latest results.