Youth & Consumer Culture

By Meg Campbell
consumer girl image by Lev Dolgatshjov from Fotolia.com

A consumer culture is considered to be the natural product of a healthy, advanced capitalist society. Consumerism is defined by a society's continual, successful material attainment and power to purchase desired goods and services. These accumulated material items and purchased experiences come to mark members of a consumer culture as an ordinary, successful or prestigious individual. Consumer culture affects young members of society as much as it effects their elders, and youth consumer culture almost always impacts adult lives.

The Facts

According to Juliet B. Schor, author of "Born to Buy," nearly every sector of the marketplace has a successful segment geared explicitly toward children and young people. One-fifth of McDonald's business, for example, comes from Happy Meal sales. Marketing and advertising experts have aimed their sights on young consumers because young consumers have purchasing power. Schor writes, "Children aged 4 to 12 made $6.1 billion in purchases in 1989, $23.4 billion in 1997 and $30 billion in 2002--an increase of 400 percent."

Youth Influence

In recent years, parenting style has shifted somewhat in the United States. More often, parents are asking their children for opinions on food, clothing and other everyday goods. Marketing experts realize this, so most brands have divisions or specific products that appeal directly to children so parents are asked to spend money in a certain way. Children's three main categories of spending and influence in spending are sweets, drinks and snacks, and toys and clothing. It's thought that households with two working parents are more susceptible to youth-aimed advertising, since these parents may have less time to spend with their children and, therefore, guilty feelings which prompt consumer spending.

Teenagers

Teenagers have staggering buying power in today's consumer culture, in part due to their ability to work (and lack of monthly bills such as rent) and their position of influence over their parents' money. Advertisers long ago isolated what is called the "cool factor," going so far as creating movements in youth fashion, music and food, among other products. Marketers loosely call this "taking the brand to the street," and it includes using high-profile celebrities to endorse products on television or in their personal lives. While all segments of consumer culture are affected by marketing strategies, teenagers are specifically targeted in many instances (especially fast food, fashion and technological gadgets).

Dangers

Some argue that youth consumer culture is more damaging to youth than it is beneficial. In an essay in the book "Consumerism (Opposing Viewpoints)", Kris Berggren states that parents feel pressure to give their children not only the necessities of living, but also material items that seem to be connected to a child's happiness and ultimate well-being. Berggren points out that even though some parents limit children's television time (in turn limiting their exposure to advertising), they are still exposed to cultivated desires and consumerism through their classmates and friends. This can present a challenge for families that consciously choose not to partake in consumer culture.

Luxury Consumption

At the dawn of consumer culture, luxury items were reserved for wealthy---usually older---buyers. Today, even children ask for popular luxury brands (especially in fashion and technology), and teenagers to young adults have the buying power, often through credit cards, to purchase items that their parents couldn't have afforded at their age. The main idea behind youth luxury consumption is that they know what they want and aren't willing to wait for it. Brands are bought for status, meaning a Gucci watch is not as much for telling time as it is for making a statement. While some young consumers may not yet have a car or their own apartment, they might have a high-end plasma television in the bedroom. In the end, luxury brands depend on generating emotional attachments in all consumers.

About the Author

Based just outside Chicago, Meg Campbell has worked in the fitness industry since 1997. She’s been writing health-related articles since 2010, focusing primarily on diet and nutrition. Campbell divides her time between her hometown and Buenos Aires, Argentina.