A cure for compulsive consumerism

by John Hayward

Over four years ago, UNICEF published its Innocenti report Child Poverty in Perspective: An Overview of Child Well-being in Rich Countries, highlighting how the physical and emotional well-being of British children is the worst among the world’s wealthiest nations. For at least some of its authors, the problem seemed to be just a question of money. Thus Professor Jonathan Bradshaw from York University claimed, ‘If you’re asking what is the main driver of these results, it’s the fact that for a long time children in Britain have been under-invested in; not enough has been spent on them.’

I observed at the time that well-being is about more than just money and that the pursuit of individualism is surely one of the factors behind the breakdown in relationships that means our children were ranked as having the worst relationships with family and friends, including the second highest proportion of children living in single-parent families or with step-parents. It’s taken them a while, but their latest research confirms how wrong their original interpretation was:

‘Perhaps one of the most striking findings of the research was that whilst children, by and large, would prefer time with their parents to heaps of consumer goods and [that they i.e. the children] had a rather balanced approach to consumer culture, UK parents seem to find themselves under tremendous pressure to purchase a surfeit of material goods for their children. This compulsive consumption was almost completely absent in both Spain and Sweden.’ (Children’s Well-being in UK, Sweden and Spain: The Role of Inequality and Materialism, p.44)

When reading parts of the report, one has to wonder whether Christians are any different from those around us. Take, for instance, this paragraph: ‘During the ethnographies we were immediately struck by the volume of toys children in the UK appeared to have. Our ethnographers observed boxes and boxes of toys, many of which were broken, and children appearing to ‘rediscover’ toys which they had even forgotten that they owned. Parents spoke of having to have ‘clear-outs’ of children’s toys in order to make room for new things, and not being able to control what other family members and friends gave to their children. This suggests somewhat of a disconnect between what children say they need (family time and creative, outdoor and sporting activities) and what parents give to them (consumer goods).’

Which all begs the question, how might we live differently? How might a biblical emphasis on love of God and love of neighbour guide us to a more fulfilling lifestyle? Our group study guide, Jubilee Lifestyle: How putting relationships first transforms everything, addresses precisely this concern.


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Category: Blogs

September, 2011

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