Materialism does not lead to dissatisfaction among children, but unhappy children who are regularly exposed to television advertising can become more materialistic.
These are the findings of University of Amsterdam (UvA) communication scientists Sanne Opree, Moniek Buijzen and Patti Valkenburg, which were published in the leading American scientific journal Pediatrics on 20 August 2012.
The findings of Opree, Buijzen and Valkenburg are at odds with the findings from earlier research among adults, suggesting that materialism in adults leads to dissatisfaction. Previous research also indicated that materialistic children are less happy, but whether there is causality between materialism and satisfaction remains uncertain. The UvA researchers are helping to change this. The fact that the situation for children is different than in adults can, according to the researchers, be explained by the fact that children are still strongly emotionally dependent on their parents. The researchers argue that, irrespective of how materialistic children are, possessions are ultimately less important to them than a positive family situation.
The researchers also present a plausible explanation for the finding that unhappy children are materialistic, but only if they see a lot of advertising. Because advertising gives the impression that material possessions make you happy, children who see a lot of advertising think that this is really the case in reality. Unhappy children do not watch more advertising than other children, but they seem to be more susceptible to its effects. Opree, Buijzen and Valkenburg emphasise that it is important to reduce this effect, because research among adults suggests that materialistic children may become less happy later in life. In their article, they discuss different intervention strategies for this purpose and propose that further research is needed.
Opree, Buijzen and Valkenburg conducted research among 466 children in the Netherlands between the ages of 8-11 (55% girls). The study consisted of a survey with questions on material possessions, life satisfaction and advertising. A year later, the survey was repeated with the same group of children. The researchers then studied the relationship between the variables using structural equation modeling.
Opree, S. J., Buijzen, M., & Valkenburg, P.M. (2012). ‘Lower life satisfaction related to materialism in children frequently exposed to advertising’, Pediatrics, 130 (3). doi: 10.1542/peds.2011-3148