Assimilating and Differentiating: The Curvilinear Effect of Social Class on Green Consumption

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Journal Article
Journal of Consumer Research, 2021, 47, (6), pp. 914-936
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Building on optimal distinctiveness theory, this research examines the effects of social class on green consumption. Across six studies, we find a curvilinear effect of social class on green consumption, with the middle class having greater propensity for green consumption compared to the lower and upper classes. This effect can be explained by tension between need for assimilation (NFA) and need for differentiation (NFD) that varies among the three social classes in establishing their optimally distinctive identities. The lower class has a dominant NFA, the upper class has a dominant NFD, and the middle class has dual motivation for assimilation and differentiation. Concomitantly, green consumption has the dual function of assimilation and differentiation. The middle class perceives green consumption as simultaneously assimilating and differentiating, which satisfies their dual motivation and enhances their propensity for green consumption. By contrast, the lower class perceives the differentiation function of green consumption as contradicting their dominant NFA, and the upper class perceives the assimilation function as contradicting their dominant NFD, which lower both their propensities for green consumption. Furthermore, these effects are moderated by consumers' power distance belief. These novel findings have significant theoretical and practical implications on building a more sustainable society.
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