Social and economic stratification is currently a challenge for modern Russian education. Today's schools and universities are not only and not so much educational institutions as places to show off the economic well-being of a student's family, Natalia Shaidakova said in the article ‘Conspicuous Consumption among Young People from Families of Different Social and Economic Backgrounds’ in the academic journal Psychology. Economics. Law 2 (2014). Students, including university students, compete by comparing their expensive cell phones, designer clothes, and the cars that they – or their parents – drive. The more elite a school or university, the more students pay attention to so-called ‘demonstrative consumption,’ – that is, purchases made not out of need, but out of the desire to demonstrate status, wealth, and to make peers like you.
Demonstrative consumption is a mass phenomenon in Russia and around the world, yet not a very widely studied field in our country. The importance of analyzing this phenomenon is evident both socially and economically. Knowledge of who buys what, where, and why can help in preparing the business strategies of retailers, service companies and industrial enterprises.
Natalia Shaidakova decided to fill in this research gap by conducting research on conspicuous consumption in Russian youth. She was trying to figure out what the characteristics were of conspicuous consumption in today’s high-school students and how they differed for students from families of varying socioeconomic statuses. In other words, Shaidakova aimed to determine which items youth consider ‘status items,’ and also where and for how much they buy them.
The research project saw the participation of 214 individuals between the ages of 15 and 30, all from Nizhny Novgorod. Of these students, 86 were high-school students, while 112 were ordinary public school students and state-funded students at universities with low prestige ratings. The students completed surveys where they answered whether or not they had an inclination towards conspicuous consumption or which purchases they make in connection with this. The survey’s results underwent mathematical processing.
It turned out the majority of pupils and students pay attention to conspicuous consumption. Only 15% of students do see no difference between prestigious and non-prestigious things and the way of life. ‘If we divide subjects into those who are more or less competent in consuming symbols of prestige, then at both ordinary schools and elite gymnasiums and universities, where there is a secret economic requirement, slightly less than one fifth of the students is entirely competent in recognizing conspicuous consumption,’ the study's author said. In addition, about a third of students and pupils have an‘above average’ level and about the same amount are considered ‘below average.’
In addition, the overall indicator of demonstrative behavior was significantly higher for students from gymnasiums and prestigious universities.
Among representatives of wealthy families, conspicuous consumption is perceived as the norm, where as among less affluent individualsit comes in the form of imitation – that is, 'they live like that,' while others try to imitate 'them.'
Analysis of the research results shows that the main difference between ‘poor and rich’ lies not in an individual’s stance on conspicuous consumption, but on the ‘signs of status’ used.
Lesser affluent students display their importance through prestigious types of mobile phones. Richer young people, on the other hand, tend to characterize high status by clothing stores, vacations at expensive resorts, expensive cars, expensive restaurants and beauty salons. They also, however, pay attention to smaller purchases such as name-brand underwear and high-end candy brands.
A confirmation of social status does not stop at material things, Natalia Shaidakova stressed. A side from direct consumption, criteria of the social hierarchy include high marks resulting from the influence of a student’s parents. In conclusion finer, latent, and more qualitative aspects complement the quantitative and demonstrative aspect of consumption stratification.