Sunday, June 28, 2009

In re "bling": Race and conspicuous consumption 

The Wharton School has published a paper (pdf) that examines patterns of consumer behavior by race (or, rather, by American "racial" categories, which are not consistently racial). The carefully-hedged abstract:

Using nationally representative data on consumption, we show that Blacks and Hispanics devote larger shares of their expenditure bundles to visible goods (clothing, jewelry, and cars) than do comparable Whites. These differences exist among virtually all sub-populations, are relatively constant over time, and are economically large. While racial differences in utility preference parameters might account for a portion of these consumption differences, we emphasize instead a model of status seeking in which conspicuous consumption is used as a costly indicator of a household’s economic position. Using merged data on race and state-level income, we demonstrate that a key prediction of the status-signaling model -- that visible consumption should be declining in reference group income -- is strongly borne out in the data for each racial group. Moreover, we show that accounting for differences in reference group income characteristics explains most of the racial difference in visible consumption.

I have not read far beyond the abstract, and may report more later. I note, however, that the study did not look at the consumption patterns of racial Asian-Americans. Indeed, the word "asian" does not appear even once. One is forced to wonder why, in a study that purported to look at "race" and consumption, the authors examined Hispanics but not Asians.


By Blogger JPMcT, at Sun Jun 28, 01:04:00 PM:

HMMPH...the answer is fairly easy, TH...just compare this data to a graph of the tax burden of "Whites" versus "sub-populations".

I will never forget having to buy food with a nearly maxed out credit card during my training because I didn't have two nickels to rub together...and ahead of us in the grocery line were people buying lobster with food stamps.

If one's nation expects no responsible behaviour from the recipients of the "largesse"...then they will not get it.

Just another wonderful by-product of the progressive tax system.  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Sun Jun 28, 02:18:00 PM:

There also may be an urban versus a non-urban relationship. My younger son and daughter-in-law did almost no entertaining when they lived in an apartment in Manhattan. There just wasn't enough space to put their stuff away and get a reasonable number of friends in to impress them with their living quarters. In urban areas people tend to do a lot of their living on the street or in restaurants therefore requiring more bling, flashy clothes, and expensive automobiles to express their economic status.

In the suburbs we have the McMansion and I wonder if housing expenditures were included in the study, in the exurbs we have the estate.


By Anonymous Anonymous, at Sun Jun 28, 02:52:00 PM:

Increasingly, asians (usually East/Southeast asians) are considered part of the white race, since they are achieving at the same or higher levels of success.

Success is dependent upon behavior and since both White and Asian are successful, their behaviors are largely the same. This is a form of convergent evolution, where despite separate existences, the only method for success is the same. Hard work, avoid crime, savings, reduce expenses and education. History and multiple examples have shown that following these methods will lead to success.

I am sick of hearing how blacks and latinos are the minorities in this country. Asians are a much smaller population, yet the news and many studies and policies do not acknowledge this.

I feel sorry for Blacks and Latinos since their native countries in Africa and Central/South America did not achieve accomplishments as great as the Indians, Chinese, Japanese. They don't have pride in their past to strive and advance. Many of the Mayan/Inca successes were not enduring and thus, it doesn't count. Egypt was the only African nation to be successful, but were they considered Black at their peak? Now, Egypt is not Black, but Arab.

Asians can look to the past and present conditions of the Asian nations and see hope, success and pride that Asians can be successful despite the decades of war, colonialism and occupation. Their culture is important, their economies are important, their people are important. Blacks and Latinos can't claim the same thing, even in their native lands where they are in control and own vast natural resources.

South America is also home to many primitive tribes of people. They are so dumb that they couldn't progress beyond the stone age. These are the true nature of the South Americans. Latinos are a product of Spanish/White culture that lifted these natives.  

By Blogger SR, at Sun Jun 28, 03:05:00 PM:

I wonder why during training we didn't look into getting food stamps ourselves?  

By Anonymous tyree, at Sun Jun 28, 04:14:00 PM:

I guess the answer is that some races are more equal than others?  

By Anonymous John Costello, at Sun Jun 28, 05:22:00 PM:

The Chinese, Vietnamese, Japanese and Indians I know in the Boston area are as much into bling as whites, if not less. What's more important, having those diamonds and rhinestones inset into your teeth or sending your kids to a private afternoon school to learn what they can't learn in the public schools? Why do you think asian and indian immigrants do so much better than certain other ethnic minorities?  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Sun Jun 28, 06:28:00 PM:

The abstract actually explains (albeit in highly clipped technical language) the real upshot of the study, which refutes (the authors purport) the theory that blacks are culturally disposed toward consumption. Instead, poor blacks are more likely to live in communities with other poor blacks, while poor whites are more likely to live in communities with somewhat wealthier whites. That means that the poor blacks are better able to participate in status-signaling conspicuous consumption than the poor whites are.

Put another way, blacks tend to live in communities where status is signaled by expensive sneakers, which almost anyone can afford if they stretch far enough. Whites, on the other hand, tend to live in communities were status is signaled by fancy houses and cars (because the communities are wealthier on average), and a poor person simply cannot compete with that consumption no matter how financially irresponsible they're willing to be. The whites are therefore more likely to just give up the conspicuous consumption game altogether.

The study does some analysis that supports that theory, specifically by controlling for community income in measuring consumption. Community income doesn't account for all the difference, so there likely is some cultural basis too. But the picture isn't as stark as it might initially appear.  

By Blogger Christopher Chambers, at Sun Jun 28, 07:58:00 PM:

No group is monolithic so I'm wondering how the picked the samples. Poor whites put just as much emphasis on rims as poor blacks; wealthy whites in LA might have a different definition of "bling" as those in Greenwich, CT. I've see younger "Asians" (whatever that could mean--from Indians to Japanese to Koreans) dripping with bling, or indulging in conspicuous consumption. Poor blacks in College Park GA might consume differently than those in Trenton or Baltimore or Chicago. And a Puerto Rican might festoon himself or his house with differs from a Mexican immigrant's view.

For pooer people period, regardless of race or origin, bling is a sign of self worth they cannot get from other sources. Same reason less educated/less sophisticated women ( again regardless of race) might find personal validation in getting pregnant at age 16 (and then repeated after that) because they feel they'll be valued (versus academic achievement etc.)

Oh and JPMcT--are you an ER doc? Would hate to be an undeserving, shiftless negro depending on you to save my life... ;-)  

By Blogger Christopher Chambers, at Sun Jun 28, 08:06:00 PM:

Then again...tune into the BET Awards right now. lol  

By Anonymous Billy Bob Corncob, at Sun Jun 28, 08:07:00 PM:


By Blogger Assistant Village Idiot, at Sun Jun 28, 11:14:00 PM:

Thanks for the moderating factor, CC. It would be interesting to know how much each factor accounts for. Of course, even the community data doesn't give proof to their alternative explanation, which seems rather speculative, but it is at least plausible.

This is an area where everyone seems to rely on impression and anecdote instead of hard data.

East Asians have higher IQ's than other groups (ahead of whites 106-100), so it's not all just hardworkin' culture either.  

By Blogger JPMcT, at Mon Jun 29, 08:07:00 PM:

"Oh and JPMcT--are you an ER doc? Would hate to be an undeserving, shiftless negro depending on you to save my life"

aaaannnnd...SPLAT...the bird crap hits the windshield! I'm surprised it took six hours.

Actually I've saved a number of lives amongst our local community pharmaceutical vendors...usually plugged full of high velocity hollow tip caps placed there by their fellow "sub-population" members. Yeah, Chris, they're the jewels in my crown.

I'm don't see how you got from my post to that statement without adding an extra roll of tin-foil to your hat.  

By Blogger Donna B., at Tue Jun 30, 12:35:00 AM:

It's not race, it's class, or lack thereof.  

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