English title: Consumer morality in times of economic hardship: evidence from the European Social Survey

Author(s): Cláudia Abreu Lopes -

Language: English

Type: Journal article

Year: 2010

Abstract

Crimes of everyday life, often referred to as unfair or unethical practices committed in the marketplace by those who see themselves and are seen as respectable citizens, have burgeoned as a result of the transformations in the European economy in the late 20th century, namely the transition to neo-liberal markets and the emergence of consumer society. A 'cornucopia of new criminal opportunities' has given rise to a new range of crimes such as ripping software, making false insurance claims or paying cash on hand to circumvent taxes. These shady behaviours (legal or not) are part of people's experience, albeit they are collectively regarded as morally dubious. Taken collectively, crimes of everyday life are indicators of the moral stage of a particular society and therefore a valuable instrument for social and political analysis. This paper addresses the question of whether and under which conditions feelings of economic hardship trigger crimes of everyday life. A multilevel theoretical and empirical perspective that integrates theories stemming from political science, sociology, and social psychology is adopted. I start by exploring the embeddedness of economic morality in social institutions, followed by an elaboration of the concept of market anomie to account for deviant behaviour in the marketplace, to finally step down to the examination of the correspondence between social attitudes and consumer behaviour, as postulated by the Theory of Planned Behaviour. The empirical study relies on micro data from the European Social Survey (ESS) (Round 2) and attempts to model, for each country, a formative measure of crimes of everyday life based on socio-demographic variables and the current economic situation, as it is perceived by the individual (taken as a measure of relative deprivation). The resultant country-specific regression coefficients are mapped onto the broader economic and normative context of 23 European countries. The results reveal that crimes of everyday life are driven by feelings of economic hardship only in countries where normative factors dictate their deviance. In countries where fraudulent behaviour is more generalized, inner motivations to offend play a secondary role as the more privileged consumers are more likely to commit fraud as they interact more often with the market. In turn, normative aspects result from a dynamic interplay of cultural and economic factors. As the economy grows faster, the tendency to offend in the market becomes more visible, but only in countries whose gross domestic product (GDP) stands above the European average. In countries with low GDP, the normative landscape is shaped by cultural factors that seem to obfuscate the power of economic factors favourable to consumer fraud.

Volume: 34

Issue: 2

From page no: 112

To page no: 120

Refereed: Yes

DOI: 10.1111/J.1470-6431.2009.00845.X

Journal: International Journal of Consumer Studies

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