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Favorite Possessions Protect Subjective Wellbeing under Income Inequality

Liu, J. J. ORCID: 0000-0002-6224-0216, Dalton, A. N. & Mukhopadhyay, A. (2023). Favorite Possessions Protect Subjective Wellbeing under Income Inequality. Journal of Marketing Research, doi: 10.1177/00222437221141053


Rising income inequality is taking a toll on people’s subjective wellbeing (SWB), and many commentators have implicated the role of material possessions, and thereby marketing, in this regard. Making a more nuanced argument, the present research proposes that certain material possessions – namely, favorite possessions – can mitigate the detrimental psychological effect of income inequality on SWB. In support of this proposition, experimental data from nine countries (N=3,687) and social media posts from 138 countries (N=31,332) converge to show that, while SWB generally declines as income inequality increases, encouraging consumers to attend to their favorite possessions can mitigate the negative effect of inequality on SWB. This is because attending to favorite possessions reduces consumers’ tendency to make social comparisons related to material resources and wealth, which otherwise arise when income inequality is high. Consequently, even when they perceive high income inequality, consumers feel less deprived relative to others, thereby buffering their SWB. These findings have meaningful consumer welfare implications. In particular, one way consumers can feel happier with their quality of life in an unequal society is to avoid comparing their material wealth to that of others and instead attend to the material possessions that are most special to them.

Publication Type: Article
Additional Information: This article is distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 License ( which permits non-commercial use, reproduction and distribution of the work without further permission provided the original work is attributed as specified on the SAGE and Open Access page (
Publisher Keywords: subjective wellbeing, income inequality, special possessions, consumerism
Subjects: H Social Sciences > HD Industries. Land use. Labor
H Social Sciences > HD Industries. Land use. Labor > HD28 Management. Industrial Management
H Social Sciences > HM Sociology
H Social Sciences > HN Social history and conditions. Social problems. Social reform
Departments: Bayes Business School > Management
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