Consumer aspirations and subjective well-being

SignMaria Petrescu, Nova Southeastern University and Aycan Kara, Indiana University Southeast

Did you ever think, as a consumer, what are the consumption elements that contribute to your happiness? How much of your happiness is related to you and what you expect from your purchases? We found that consumers who are looking for higher levels of hedonism and social power have lower levels of subjective well-being than individuals with lower levels of these cultural values. The main conclusion of our study, the negative relationship between hedonism and social power values and subjective well-being, confirms the statements of Aspirations Theory and shows that high aspirations, including high hedonistic and power needs, might lead to unfulfilled expectations and impact subjective well-being negatively. Consumer Aspirations (Level) Theory, focuses on the consequences of a divergence between aspired goals or wants in terms of outcomes and the current state for an individual’s well-being.

This research study analyzes the effect that cultural values and consumer aspirations have on the subjective well-being of consumers, focusing on the relationship between consumer hedonism and power values, life and income satisfaction and consumer well-being. The study also analyzes the impact of macro variables such as GDP, institutional trust and political freedom at regional level, at the NUTS II regions of the European Union. The indicators used in this study came from the database of the European Social Survey (ESS) and Eurostat.

Our findings indicate that most of variability in the subjective well-being of European consumers takes place at the individual level; only 14.63% of the variance was due to regional differences. As previously mentioned, lower levels of hedonism and of social power were related to subjective well-being. This shows that consumers with high aspirations and expectations, looking to obtain pleasure and social power from their consumption, are more likely to perceive a gap between their aspirations and what they receive, thereof reporting lower level of well-being.

Also, European consumers who had higher levels of life satisfaction also expressed high levels of subjective well-being. Life satisfaction, as a cognitive evaluation of life, has an influence on the affective part of well-being, which is emotional and reflects individuals’ emotional states as they live their everyday lives. This represents a significant finding and it confirms the effect of cognitive evaluations of life on the emotional assessment of well-being.

Consumers who indicated that they were living comfortably with their household income expressed higher levels of subjective well-being than individuals who specified that they were having difficulty living on their current income.

Results also show that younger consumers have higher levels of subjective well-being and female consumers also report higher levels of SWB. The results bring further light regarding relationships between these two variables and subjective well-being and confirm that, despite some studies who found non-significant or weak results, age and gender do have an influence on the levels on subjective well-being reported by consumers.

Even though we have examined the effects of region-level GDP, trust and political freedom on individual-level SWB of European consumers, we did not find any significant relationship. Population density was negatively related to SWB indicating higher levels of population density negatively affects their well-being, which could be motivated by the stress of metropolitan living such as environmental concerns, pollution, congestion and traffic.

Overall, this study analyzed the effect of consumer aspirations on subjective well-being, considering individuals’ high-expectations and desires of hedonism and social power, and also satisfaction with life and income and demographics. We also considered the effect of regional variables on subjective well-being. The main contribution of this article is represented by the confirmation of the importance of hedonism and social power values on consumers’ subjective well-being. Consumers with high aspirations of hedonism and power are more likely to report lower levels of SWB. In the same context, life and income satisfaction have a positive influence on subjective well-being. The relationship between demographic variables such as age and gender is also confirmed, underlining their effect on consumers’ happiness.

The conclusions of this study show that businesses in particular need to pay attention to their consumers’ levels of expectations and aspirations and avoid a significant dissatisfaction with the hedonic value they provide. For consumers looking for hedonic gratification and social power, a dissonance between the value received and their aspiration can lead to dissatisfaction with the business and low subjective well-being.

Maria Petrescu is Assistant Professor of Marketing at Nova Southeastern University, Fort Lauderdale, Florida, USA. Aycan Kara is Assistant Professor of Strategic Management and Entrepreneurhsip at Indiana University Southeast, USA.

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