Just can’t get enough? (BEHAVE 2014 Blog Series, 1/4)


To kick off the season of mellow fruitfulness, David Fell and Geoff King will next week be at the Said Business School in Oxford to join delegates from around the world at the 2014 BEHAVE conference.

The theme of the conference is “Paradigm Shift: From Energy Efficiency to Energy Reduction through Social Change”.  To get ourselves into the mood, we’ve been looking again at the results of a survey we ran a few months ago to gauge consumer attitudes towards a range of environmental and lifestyle issues.

One of the questions we asked was a reprise of a question we first asked a decade earlier for our publication ‘Bad Habits, Hard Choices’, when we asked:

To what extent do you agree or disagree with the statement

“I own more possessions than I really need”?

Comparing the results from 2004 with our most recent survey findings, we can see a marked fall in the proportion of the population that strongly agreed with the statement.

GN graph 1

It seems highly likely that the effects of the 2008 financial collapse – particularly the long period of stable or even declining incomes – will lie behind this shift; but it is still striking that 44% of our respondents agree that they own more ‘stuff’ than they really need.

We also asked a new question, directly about incomes, inviting people to indicate which of the following statements came closest to their view:

  • My household income would need to be much higher than it is now in order for me to live a comfortable life
  • My household income need to be slightly higher than it is now in order for me to live a comfortable life
  • My household income is already enough for me to live a comfortable life
  • If my household income was a little lower than it is now I would still be able to live a comfortable life

The results are intriguing, with respondents evenly split between three main answers, as the pie chart shows:

GN graph 2

Is the glass half full or half empty?  A third of the population is either poor or acquisitive and wants much more money?  A third of the population admit in a survey that they don’t really need any more money?  Two thirds are either already comfortable or would need only a little more money to be comfortable: what does this say about the need for rapid economic growth?

Needless to say, we’re still thinking about what it all means.  In the meantime, over the next few days we’ll be posting some other findings which we hope will give us all food for thought.

[Fieldwork was conducted on-line in September 2013 with a representative sample of 1,000 GB adults by GfK]

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