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Shopping Malls have had a huge impact on consumer culture. Shown in the picture is the Mall of America, one of the largest malls in the US.

Consumer culture describes a lifestyle hyper-focused on spending money to buy material goods. It is often attributed to, but not limited to, the capitalist economy of the United States. During the 20th century, market goods came to dominate American life, and for the first time in history, consumerism had no practical limits. Consumer culture has provided affluent societies with alternatives to tribalism and class war.

Consumer culture began to increase rapidly during the extreme economic growth of the Roaring Twenties[1] The challenge for the future is to find ways to revive the valid portion of the culture of constraint and control the overpowering success of the twentieth century.[2]

Types of culture

Social scientists Arthur Berger, Aaron Wildavsky, and Mary Douglas have suggested that there are four political and consumer cultures possible in a democratic society: hierarchical/elitist, individualist, egalitarian, and fatalist.[3]

Mass market theory

Main article: Mass-market theory

Advertising and strategies

A cover for a collection of sheet music from 1899, showing a woman dressed in luxurious clothes spending money in multiple scenarios

To improve the effectiveness of advertisements, people of various age groups are employed by marketing companies to increase the understanding of the beliefs, attitudes, and values of the targeted consumers.

A quote by Shah states that "The sophistication of advertising methods and techniques has advanced, enticing and shaping and even creating consumerism and needs where there has been none before".[4]

Richard Wilk has written an article about bottled water and the consumerist basis it has in society. The base point of this article is to point out how water is free, and it is abundant, but over time it has become a point of marketing. The debate has always existed if there is a real difference in taste between bottled water and tap water. When it comes down to it, during many blind tastes, people cannot even tell which was tap and which was bottled, and more often than not tap water won for better taste. Water has always been regarded as a pure substance and has connections in many religions. Throughout history, it has been shown that control over water is equivalent to control over untamed nature, and this has been shown in movies as well. To build on this idea, Wilk points out how having bottled water enforces the idea of this control over nature and the need that humans have for water. To further enforce this idea of natural and pure water, a 1999 report by the National Resources Defense Council found that many water companies use words like “pure” and “pristine” to aid in marketing. Wilk explains that it is more than just the marketing of it being pure, but that people want bottled water because they know the source. Public water comes from an anonymous source and Wilk concludes that the home is an extension of ourselves, so why would we want to bring an unknown specimen into our home? This is where the bottled water preference comes in, according to Wilk, because people can trace it back to where it came from. In addition to this idea, many brands and companies have started marketing water toward specific needs like special water for women, kids, athletes, and so on. This increases competition between brands and takes away from customers being able to choose what water they want. This is due to the larger companies being able to make more connections and pay the expensive fee to be sold on the shelves. Wilk concludes that since it is hard to trust either, it comes down to which is distrusted least.[2]

Industrial Revolution

Main article: Industrial Revolution

Wage work

Pictured are both men and women working side-by-side in a factory

Before the Industrial Revolution, the home was a place where men and women produced, consumed, and worked.[5] The men were highly valued workers, such as barbers, butchers, farmers, and lumbermen who brought income into the house. The wives of these men completed various tasks to save money which included, churning butter, fixing clothes, and tending the garden. This system created an equal value for all of the jobs and tasks in a community. Once the Industrial Revolution began, there was no such thing as equal and high valued work in a mass production industry. The only value these workers had were the wage they made. That meant the wives lost their value at home and had to start working for a living. This new system created the thought of everyone being replaceable.[6]

Life of the worker

The life of a worker was a challenging one. Working 12 to 14-hour days, 6 days a week, and in a dangerous environment. The worst part was the infrequency of pay or not being paid at all. At times, employers paid their workers in script pay, non-U.S. currency, or even in-store credit.[6]

See also


  1. ^ Higgs, Kerryn. "How the world embraced consumerism". Retrieved 2023-04-11.
  2. ^ a b "An All-Consuming Century | Columbia University Press". Columbia University Press. Retrieved 2018-11-13.
  3. ^ Berger, Arthur (2004). Ads, Fads, and Consumer Culture. Lanham, MD: Rowman and Littlefield. pp. 25–43. ISBN 0-7425-2724-7 – via Hard Text.
  4. ^ Shah, Anup (2012-03-04). "Media and Advertising". Global Issues. Retrieved 2023-04-20.
  5. ^ Husband, Julie; O'Loughlin, Jim (2004). Daily Life In The Industrial United States, 1870-1900. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press. pp. 151–177. ISBN 0-313-32302-X – via Hard Text.
  6. ^ a b Keene, Jennifer; Cornell, Saul; O'Donnell, Edward (2015). Visions of America:A History of the United States. Boston: Person. ISBN 978-0-13-376776-6 – via Hard Text.