unconsciously deterring romantic rivals by buying certain luxury items,
according to a new study in the Journal of Consumer Research.
on luxury goods in the US amounts to as much as $525 billion per year, with
women's products accounting for over half of this consumption. Why do women
desire luxury goods?" write authors Yajin Wang and Vladas Griskevicius
(both University of Minnesota).
it's because they want other women to know their mates are spoken for.
"Women at different ages and relationship status inferred that a woman
with designer outfits and accessories has a more devoted partner," the
authors write. "They also spontaneously inferred that the partner financially
contributed to these luxurious possessions. Such information is especially
valuable when their relationship is threatened by another woman."
In a series
of experiments, the researchers activated women's motivation to guard their
relationships by having them imagine their romantic partners being flirtatious
and intimate with another woman at a party. Then they assessed participants'
desires for luxury products. "In one study, the women participants even
physically drew luxury brand logos on handbags, shoes, T-shirts, and cars that
were about twice the size compared to those who did not imagine the jealous
theme at the party," the authors explain.
also found that women indicated they would be less likely to pursue a man whose
partner was wearing a luxury outfit and accessories because they perceived the
man to be more devoted. "Whereas men often display luxury products to the
opposite sex, women often seek to flaunt expensive possessions to the same
sex," the authors write. "This might be particularly interesting to
luxury brand practitioners and managers to understand that women are the
primary audiences of women's luxury consumption."
guarding is, of course, not the only function of women's conspicuous
consumption," the authors explain, citing past research showing that
luxury goods also make women happy or signal status and taste. "In
essence, Fendi handbags fend off romantic rivals, and flaunting designer
products says "Back off!" the authors conclude.