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24 August 2012

Advertising Makes Unhappy Children More Materialistic

Keywords: advertising, happiness, Western Europe, consumer behavior, health, marketing, persuasion, survey, teens, television,

Children who are not satisfied with their lives become more materialistic over time. But only when they see a lot of advertising, according to a study in Pediatrics. Advertising seems to teach unhappy children that material possessions are a way to become happier.

Take aways

  • Unhappy children who watch a lot of advertising become more materialistic over time.
  • Happy children and children who don't see much advertising, do not become more materialistic.
  • It appears that advertising teaches unhappy children that material possessions are a way to become happy.
  • An explanation might be that advertising creates the idea that possession of the advertised products brings along all sorts of desirable features, including happiness, success and status.
  • Previous studies have shown that materialistic adults become less happy over time. To prevent unhappy children to end up in this downward spiral, intervention is called for.
  • Three intervention strategies can be applied: regulating children’s advertising exposure, teaching them how to be critical toward advertising, and educating them about other sources of happiness in life.

Study information

  • The question?

    Does materialism lead to lowered life satisfaction, does lowered life satisfaction lead to materialism, or do they both influence each other? And what is the role of advertising?

  • Who?

    466 children, aged 8 -11 years (55% girls) 

  • Where?

    The Netherlands

  • How?

    The children were recruited through an online youth panel managed by a large research company in the Netherlands. The children filled out an online questionnaire twice, with a one-year interval. The questionnaire contained questions about material possessions, life satisfaction, and advertising. Because the questionnaire was filled out twice by the same children, the researchers could answer the “chicken or egg” question: does low life satisfaction lead to materialism or is it the other way around?

Facts and findings

  • Lowered life satisfaction led to materialism in children and not the other way around.
  • But life satisfaction only affected materialism for children who watched a lot of advertising.