Consumerism Definition 

Consumerism refers to the consumer ideology of Western society, which revolves around a social and economic structure in which customers are encouraged to buy anything, regardless of whether they need it. Such consumer desires are more often driven by lifestyle obsession rather than a requirement, giving them a sense of happiness and fulfillment through material possession.

Businesses increase production to introduce new products to the market regularly. They then create demand for these offerings through manipulative advertising. The urge among consumers to try these products makes them spend more on mindless consumption. Eventually, this increased consumer spending lets brands earn profits and fuels the economic growth of a nation. It is often referred to as a consumerist movement, as it strives to safeguard consumer rights from over-marketing.

Key Takeaways
  • Consumerism is a concept that focuses on a social and economic arrangement where consumers do not hesitate to spend on things, which are not necessarily their basic requirements.
  • Brands create demand for their products through manipulative advertising, thereby compelling and convincing consumers to purchase those items. It let them earn profits.
  • The mid-18th century marked the beginning of the consumerism movement. People started spending more on material goods that were not really their need but only a lifestyle obsession.
  • It became a great way of boosting the national GDP and global economy. But at the same time, it affects the social status of the people.

How Does Consumerism Work? 

Choosing wealth over virtue is the basis of consumerism, which drives a nation’s economy. Until the beginning of the 18th century, people hardly knew of or preferred buying anything they did not want. Apart from basic kitchen utensils or farming equipment, there was nothing extra found within the households. The life led was simple, and the global GDP remained zero because of no commercialization back then.

How Does Consumerism Work

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Consumerism emerged as a new phenomenon after the industrial revolution. Businesses started large-scale productions of different kinds of products. However, it soon led to overproduction that must be consumed at any cost to avoid huge losses. As the supply surpassed demand, they created manipulative advertising. To make people consume these material goods, they created the demand for their products and encouraged people to buy them whether they need them or not.

The concept is still a matter of debate among intellectuals. But one thing that no one ever disputed is how it created opportunities for the weaker and poorer sections of the society.


  • In the early 18th century, in north-western Europe, economies witnessed the expansion and increase in wages. As a result, families started buying unnecessary commodities for their places.
  • The mid-18th century marked the beginning of the consumerism movement or consumer revolution. People started spending more on items that were not their need.
  • More spending led to the emergence of more businesses. It created more job opportunities with increased wages, giving people disposable incomeDisposable IncomeDisposable income is an important mechanism to measure household incomes, and includes all sorts of income such as wages and salaries, retirement income, investment gains. In other words, it is the amount of money left after paying off all the direct more to spend on luxury items.
  • Many industries sprang up in Great Britain, and manufacturing started for household items, including furniture, potteries, and cutleries from renowned brands like Chip ‘n’ Dale, Derby, Sheffield, etc.
  • It was around this time that the intellectual revolution began to gain traction. At that time, different scholars put forth their thoughts on the changing economic structure of society.
  • In his book “The Fable of the Bees,” London physicist Bernard Mandeville described how commercialism drove people to buy stuff to ensure they are in no way less than others. However, he also considered the increasing willingness to buy luxury items as the reason behind the national prosperity.
  • Philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau argued how living a minimalistic lifestyle or sticking to only the basic requirements would keep society balanced.
  • With the end of World War I in 1918, the United States productions paced up like never before. The production rate was 12 times more in 1920 compared to 1860. Also, the unprecedented rise in consumer credit and increased lending by banks in that decade made people spend on large quantities of material goods. Though these significant events were short-lived, they gave consumerism in the 1920s a special global recognition.

Consumerism Examples

Let us consider the following consumerism examples to understand the concept better:

Example #1

A mobile manufacturing company developed a smartphone with advanced features incorporated in it. The brand successfully created the demand for it in the market, making customers excited. It led to more and more consumer spending.

A year later, the same brand came up with a new model with more additional specifications. So, consumers disposed of their last phones and purchased this new model with updated software and better configuration.

The brand knew how desperate people have become to up their lifestyles. Hence, it created a desire in consumers to buy upgraded versions of its product almost every year. The company thus makes more money in the process.

Example #2

The first time commercialism derided was during the Great Depression period, which lasted from 1929 through 1939. The Wall Street Crash of 1929 resulted in shares losing their values on the New York Stock Exchange that created panic among investors. All this affected the global economy to a great extent.

The price of consumer goods increased while the spending decreased drastically. It led to the failure of many businesses, leading to the loss of jobs. However, commercialism rebounded quickly following the end of the era of recession and World War II.

The case is no different than the COVID-19 situation, which halted consumerism, increased worldwide unemployment, and slowed global economic activity.

Pros And Cons

The consumerism culture has contributed in a great way to stimulate the global economy. But at the same time, it has affected the social status of the people in a significant way.

Advantages of Consumerism

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  • The greater the consumer spending, the better it would be for businesses, the national GDP, and the global economy.
  • It promotes fair marketing practices and the production of high-quality material goods.
  • It compels businesses to keep competing to offer better products. As a result, consumers get to use items with high-quality standards.
  • The brands have to employ people with skills to produce innovative products that meet customer requirements. As a result, talented people get better opportunities.
  • It boosts the employment rate as production units need more workers and staff to accomplish different tasks.
  • Only the best brands and businesses survive, and those that do not offer satisfactory products and services go out of the competition.


  • Material possession can become the symbol of identity and social status for individuals.
  • Increased consumption may increase products prices.
  • Reckless lending and issuance of credit cards at low-interest rates by banks and government incentives for consumers to make purchases can raise debt levels and lead to recessions.
  • Linking material possession with social status can cause stress, anxiety, and depression among people.
  • It affects consumers’ moral values and principles as they strive to emulate the lifestyles of their peers.
  • Besides having economic, social, and psychological consequences, it can damage the environment through industrial pollution, waste disposal, and overexploitation of natural resources.

Consumerism vs Capitalism

Consumerism is defined by consumer behavior and attitude characterized by a constant desire for a better lifestyle, regardless of how difficult it is to achieve. The more money consumers spend, the more profits businesses make, boosting the national economy in every way.

Capitalism is a political and economic system where private businesses aim at selling products directly to consumers. Its only aim is to make profits.

If consumerism does not exist, there will be no concept of capitalism. In short, the two remain intertwined. When people are encouraged to buy products, including the unwanted ones, private businesses make more money and enjoy profits. But if consumers start focusing only on fulfilling their needs, thereby ignoring the materialistic stuff, the concept of capitalismCapitalismCapitalism is an economic system consisting of businesses, resources, capital goods, and labour. Private entities own it, and the income is derived by the level of production of these factors. Because of the private hands, these entities can be operated efficiently and maximize their production activity more will automatically disappear.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

What is consumerism?

Consumerism is a consumer ideology from Western society. It revolves around a social and economic structure where consumers focus on possessing materials less out of requirements and more out of lifestyle obsession.

Is consumerism good or bad?

Commercialism can be both good and bad. It is good as it improves the national GDP and global economy through increased consumer spending. On the other hand, it makes people desperate about owning things that might not be affordable and causes depression and anxiety.

How are the concepts of consumerism and capitalism related?

The concepts of capitalism and commercialism remain intertwined. When people are convinced to spend on products they need or do not need, private businesses make money and enjoy profits. The concept of capitalism will vanish if consumers focus solely on meeting their necessities and ignore the materialistic aspects of life.

This has been a guide to What is Consumerism and its Definition. Here we discuss the history of consumerism and how it works, along with examples, pros, and cons. You may also have a look at the following articles to learn more –

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