-- Findings by Sociologist Joseph
Cohen Spotlight Unprecedented Household Spending and a Lack of Governmental
NY, August 12, 2013 - Since the mid-1980s, unrestrained household spending has
damaged American family finances—despite the fact that globalization and
technological change have caused consumer prices to fall widely, says Queens
College sociologist Joseph Nathan Cohen. In his paper, “The Myth of America’s Culture
of Consumerism: Policy May Help Drive American Household‘s Fraying Finances,”
which Cohen presented at the 108th Annual Meeting of the American
Sociological Association, he examines the factors that keep American families
from tightening their belts.
spending on goods that fulfill pleasure, self-esteem, or social status needs
have generally been falling, including personal care items, apparel, home
furnishings, and automobiles.
consumption spending has risen most in four product categories that shape
families’ health, safety, and economic viability: health care, education,
housing, and commuting costs.
in these four product markets have greatly outpaced both wages and prices in
may be systematically pressed to overspend on housing because access to better
schools, public services, and transportation infrastructure varies considerably
across communities, and better-heeled communities often restrict affordable
housing developments. Americans may face a relatively high well-being penalty
for living in more modestly-priced homes.
to other highly-developed countries, the U.S. does considerably less to control
the personal financial burden borne by households to ensure access to these
products and services essential to well-being.
tuition and health care costs are not the principal drivers of household
financial distress, but they constitute the fastest-growing problem.
argues that our penchant to blame household spending problems on wastefulness
or frivolities obscures the fact that Americans increasingly face a lose-lose
dilemma in which they must choose between sustainable finances and access to
quality schools, child care, medical care, public safety, and employment
a Canadian with a business background who studied at Princeton (Ph.D.
sociology, 2007), also examines how other countries tackle the provision of
essential services in different and potentially less financially damaging ways.
“Canada’s policies control the personal financial burden of accessing essential
services, which might be why household finances are in better shape there,” he
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cited each year in the Princeton Review as one of the nation’s 100 “Best Value” colleges, thanks to
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American Sociological Association (www.asanet.org),
founded in 1905, is a non-profit membership association dedicated to serving
sociologists in their work, advancing sociology as a science and profession,
and promoting the contributions to and use of sociology by society.
paper, “The Myth of America’s Culture of Consumerism: Policy May Help Drive
American Household’s Fraying Finances,” was presented on Sunday, August 11, in
New York City at the American Sociological Association’s 108th Annual
obtain a copy of the paper; for assistance reaching the study’s author(s); or
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contact Daniel Fowler, ASA’s Media Relations and Public Affairs Officer, at
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During the Annual Meeting (Aug. 10-13), ASA’s Public Information Office staff
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more information about the study, members of the media may also contact Maria
Matteo, Queens College, at (718) 997-5593 or email@example.com.
presented at the ASA Annual Meeting are typically working papers that have not
yet been published in peer reviewed journals.