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Social comparison of material possessions among adolescents

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Purpose ‐ The purpose of this paper is to explore Chinese adolescents' engagement in social comparison of material possessions using qualitative inquiries. Design/methodology/approach ‐ In total, 64 Chinese adolescents aged 13-17 were face-to-face interviewed. They were asked whether they engaged in social comparison of possessions with direct and vicarious role models such as media celebrities. Characteristics of role models and products involved in social comparison were inquired. Findings ‐ The research found that adolescents in Hong Kong frequently engaged in upward social comparison with friends and classmates. The products involved in social comparison were branded public goods that can be used to communicate ideal social self-image. There was a strong link between social comparison and peer communication about consumption. Adolescents less often engaged in social comparison with media celebrities. This can be attributed to lack of resources, understanding of product sponsorship, and difficulties in identifying with the media celebrities. Role models of the same sex and similar age were often used for social comparison. Social comparison is used mainly for self-enhancement, rather than self-evaluation. Research limitations/implications ‐ The study was from a convenient sample of adolescents in Hong Kong, a Chinese city with high advancement in terms of economic and advertising development when compared with most other Chinese cities. Originality/value ‐ This is the first qualitative study on Chinese adolescents' engagement in social comparison of material possessions.
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Keywords: Celebrities; China; Consumer psychology; Influence; Mass media; Social roles

Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: June 13, 2008

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