Is Christmas shopping bad for your identity?

It wouldn’t be Christmas without clerical complaints about commercialism:

But God is far from a capitalist, says Melbourne Anglican Archbishop Philip Freier, who said the commercialisation of Christmas and encouragement to spend increased the risk that people would define themselves only as consumers.

Praise the Lord and Clive Hamilton!

But outside Clive’s books, how likely is it that people would define themselves only as consumers? The 2007 Australian Survey of Social Attitudes asked its respondents to agree or disagree with the proposition that:

Shopping helps me create who I am

2% of respondents strongly agreed, and 11% agreed, for a total of 13%. But they were massively outnumbered by the 34% who disagreed, and 28% strongly disagreed, for a total of 62% (there was a large ‘neither’ response).

Unhappily for the Archbishop, listening to Christ’s message on a regular basis isn’t a big help in warding off the evils of consumerism. 11% of people who attend church once a week or more agree that shopping helps create who they are, exactly the same proportion as among the people who never go to church.

Nor is spending capacity a guide to who will have a consumerist identity. The most affluent income category in the survey, those earning $2,000 a week or more, are the least likely to define themselves via shopping, with just 5% agreeing with the survey proposition.

‘Progressive’ politics is no signal of being above shopping, with Labor and Green identifiers (each 14%) being slightly more likely than Liberal identifiers (12%) to be defined by their shopping.

Only a couple of social categories seem, from my little exercise in tabulation, to stand out as predictors of shopping being a source of identity. Impressionistic sociology would suggest that women are more enthusiastic shoppers than men, and (for once) the impressions are right: women 17%, men 9%. The other is being young, with people born in the 1980s being nearly twice as likely to be defined by their shopping as any other age group.

The prophets of gloom might see them as the consumerist children of a long boom. But what seems more likely to me is that this is just a passing phase before stronger sources of identity take over, such as relationships, their own families, and careers.

Merry Christmas! And enjoy the Boxing Day sales.

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