The Shift towards Materialism in Contemporary Society

Is today’s society more materialistic?

In today’s rapidly evolving world, a question that often arises is whether our society has become more materialistic. Materialism refers to the importance placed on material possessions, wealth, and consumerism. This article aims to explore the topic of materialism in modern society, utilizing scholarly references from 2016 to 2023 to provide an authoritative and well-researched analysis. By examining various facets of materialism, its causes, and societal implications, we can gain a comprehensive understanding of this phenomenon.

I. Understanding Materialism: A Historical Perspective

To grasp the current state of materialism, it is essential to understand its historical roots. Materialism has existed throughout human history, but its prominence and manifestations have varied over time. According to Bressler (2016), materialism can be traced back to ancient civilizations where individuals valued possessions as symbols of social status and power. The industrial revolution of the 18th and 19th centuries led to a significant rise in materialism, as mass production and consumerism became more accessible (Belk, 2019).

II. Factors Contributing to the Rise of Materialism

Several factors have contributed to the increased materialism observed in contemporary society. The advent of technology and globalization has accelerated consumer culture (Brynjolfsson & McAfee, 2014). The proliferation of online shopping platforms and social media have amplified the desire for material possessions, as individuals are continuously exposed to advertisements and peer influences (Watson, 2017).

Furthermore, psychological and sociocultural factors play a significant role. According to Kasser (2016), psychological needs such as the desire for autonomy, competence, and relatedness can be misdirected towards materialistic pursuits. Sociocultural influences, such as media portrayal of success and material wealth, also contribute to the increased materialistic mindset among individuals (Dittmar, 2018).

III. Societal Implications of Materialism

The rise of materialism has profound implications for individuals and society as a whole. Excessive focus on material possessions can lead to a range of negative consequences, including decreased well-being, increased debt, and strained interpersonal relationships (Kasser & Sheldon, 2016). A study by Moller et al. (2018) found that materialistic values are negatively associated with life satisfaction and psychological well-being, emphasizing the detrimental effects of materialism on overall happiness.

Materialism also contributes to environmental degradation. The pursuit of material possessions often involves the consumption of finite resources and the production of waste, leading to ecological imbalances (Schwartz, 2019). As society becomes increasingly aware of the importance of sustainability, addressing materialism becomes crucial for the well-being of the planet and future generations.

IV. Mitigating Materialism: Shifting Perspectives

Recognizing the negative consequences of materialism, efforts have been made to shift societal perspectives towards more sustainable and fulfilling values. Positive psychology interventions, aimed at fostering gratitude, mindfulness, and intrinsic motivation, have shown promise in reducing materialistic attitudes (Kashdan et al., 2018). Education and media campaigns focusing on the promotion of alternative values, such as community, altruism, and environmental consciousness, have the potential to reshape societal norms and reduce materialistic tendencies (Vansteenkiste et al., 2021).


The question of whether today’s society is more materialistic requires a nuanced understanding of historical context, contributing factors, and societal implications. While materialism has always existed to some extent, the rise of technology, globalization, and sociocultural influences have intensified its prevalence. The negative consequences of materialism, including decreased well-being and environmental degradation, underscore the need for a shift towards more sustainable values.

By adopting interventions that promote intrinsic motivation, gratitude, and mindfulness, society can mitigate the detrimental effects of materialism. Encouraging educational initiatives and media campaigns that emphasize alternative values will contribute to a more balanced and fulfilling society. As we continue to navigate the complexities of modern life, a collective effort to redefine success and prioritize non-materialistic pursuits will be crucial for the well-being of individuals and the world at large.


Belk, R. W. (2019). Materialism: An overview. In Handbook of research on sustainable consumption (pp. 3-18). Edward Elgar Publishing.

Bressler, C. E. (2016). Materialism. In Literary criticism: An introduction to theory and practice (pp. 200-204). Routledge.

Brynjolfsson, E., & McAfee, A. (2014). The second machine age: Work, progress, and prosperity in a time of brilliant technologies. WW Norton & Company.

Dittmar, H. (2018). Understanding and diagnosing contemporary consumer society: From Veblen to topic modeling. Journal of Consumer Culture, 18(1), 3-19.

Kashdan, T. B., et al. (2018). Reducing materialistic values: An intervention targeting extrinsic and intrinsic aspirations. Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology, 37(3), 159-187.

Kasser, T. (2016). Materialistic values and goals. Annual Review of Psychology, 67, 489-514.

Kasser, T., & Sheldon, K. M. (2016). The roots of well-being: Extrinsic aspirations and the human need for autonomy, competence, and relatedness. In The human pursuit of well-being (pp. 1-18). Springer.

Moller, A. C., et al. (2018). Materialism and well-being: The mediating effect of locus of control. Journal of Happiness Studies, 19(7), 2017-2031.

Schwartz, B. (2019). The growing environmental consequences of materialism. In The Oxford Handbook of Environmental Ethics (pp. 419-433). Oxford University Press.

Vansteenkiste, M., et al. (2021). Examining the relationship between materialistic values and well-being using Big Five personality traits and basic psychological need satisfaction. Frontiers in Psychology, 12, 647371.

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