Why Do We Spend Our Whole Life Working?

We live in a Consumer-driven society which affects ours lives. Why do most people live from paycheck to paycheck? Why does a person feel happiness after he buys something? How come we have to work so hard and the machines allow us so much efficiency? The answer could be in the hyper-consumer society we are in today, and through this article, I will explain what exactly it is about.

Evolution of Consumer Society

To understand today’s consumer society, we need to go back a little bit in history and see how it evolved. According to the author Gilles Lipovetsky, there are three stages that are important for the emergence of consumer society. In the first phase from 1880 to 1945, technological preconditions were created that would enable mass production. The second phase, from the 1950s, is characterized by consumption that has become available to all. Therefore, living conditions started to improve and living standards were rising. Consumption objects become the primary criteria of progress, and consumption becomes a way of life. At this stage, there is a revolution in consumer space and new stores are emerging from supermarkets to hypermarkets. The third phase, since the 1970s, is where consumer capitalism has emerged, a hyper-consumer society, in which consumption becomes individualized and hedonistic.

On the one hand, a hyper-consumer society provides abundance to wider circles of society. Therefore, more people can buy various things. On the other hand, that same society becomes a subject of consumption. For example, fashion, which is popular today, signifies “new rich” and shows current wealth. It is a stimulus to consumerism because following fashion means willing to buy something new, even though the old product is still usable.

Here are the main reasons for the emergence of a consumer society:

Changes In Production Structure and Efficiency

One of the main reasons was the emergence of the steam engine in the 18th century. The steam engine invented by James Watt marked the beginning of mass production and thus consumption as products became cheaper. Furthermore, innovations in the organization of labor, such as Taylorism and Fordism, enabled higher labor productivity, thus improving mass production and, consequently, consumption.

Workers Have Become Consumers

As production grew, and the upper class became satisfied, the process of turning middle and working-class into consumers began. In a consumer society, the work of workers was focused on meeting basic needs. With wage cuts, stricter work rules, imitation of the upper classes, and propaganda, workers have slowly evolved into consumers. A worker who is also a consumer was formed in the 1920s in the United States, when labor movements began to emerge, primarily aimed at better wages and working conditions.

Stages of Consumer Society Development

Consumer capitalism, as G. Lipovetsky puts it, can be traced through the following three periods:

Mass Consumption Phase – the Emergence of Mass Markets (1880 – 1945)

At this stage, the preconditions of a consumer society are emerging, such as large national markets, mass production machines are introduced that will enable fast processing and higher productivity at a lower cost which will pave the way for mass production. The main characteristics of this phase are branding, packaging, and advertising.

This is the period of the emergence of famous brands such as Procter & Gamble and Coca-Cola. The effects of the brand are twofold, there is a change in the attitude of the consumer towards the trader – the consumer no longer trusts the seller, but the brand because the guarantee and quality come from the manufacturer.

Mass production followed the invention of mass trade, which marked the first modern trade revolution that started the era of distribution. Department stores have developed seduction strategies that will encourage desire and portray shopping as a pleasure, and become a major instrument for promoting consumption in the art of living and a symbol of modern happiness.

Mass Consumption Society (1950 – the 1970s)

In this period capitalism becomes a society of abundance. The purchasing power of the population has tripled or quadrupled. Products like cars, television, and household appliances have become available to almost everyone. The masses won a full approach to consumption, a way of life that was once associated only with social elites. 

Consumption becomes a lifestyle, a mass dream, a new reason to live. Shopping becomes unstoppable and boundless. People feel a stronger passion for buying things, satisfying needs give way to desires that are driven by advertising.

Hyper-Consumer Society (from the 1970s)

According to Lipovetsky, the third phase of consumer capitalism begins in the 1970s. People are living in the present instead of anticipating the future, running for hedonism and spending for pleasure. The consumer increasingly relies on the experience brought to him by consumption. Consumption is becoming more recognized and the whole world is practically conceptualized on it. Each age group is affected, narrow specialization and segmentation of consumers are beginning to develop. 
The position of the Hyperconsumer has two sides, on the one hand, he is informed about all products, free to choose, and on the other hand, he depends on such a market system that actually creates him as a Hyperconsumer.  

Working in Today’s World

Before work used to serve just to meet needs. Living a minimalist lifestyle is not so interesting to the average person. The individual is driven by the consumption that defines him, and in this way, he shows his value and identity. Today, there is an abundance of attractive things on which money can be spent in leisure. Therefore, it is very easy to buy things that aren’t mandatory. As a result, we can find ourselves in the circle of spending. To spend more, individuals started working more in their free time to earn extra income. Consumerism, which may have been supposed to reduce working hours, is actually increasing it. 


Spending habits

So why do we spend at all? People spend to satisfy their needs and desires, and it also serves us to create identities. We all know people who prefer certain “branded” products and only buy them without ever considering substitute products. You can read more about the spending habits of European citizens at this link.

I like to look at it as we all started as an empty box, and as soon as we developed the ability to listen and watch, we started consuming content from parents, commercials, the Internet, friends, relatives, cell phones, and we created our own identity that we still create today.

An ingrained identity is very difficult to change and requires a strong character, but it is possible, however, it’s easier to create healthy habits in beginning, consume the information you want to think about, socialize with the right people, and generally think about things you want in life. I believe that the world we currently live in is the best and of the highest quality, as well as the economy. However, it is not perfect but it works best of all that humankind has tried so far. Above all, we must not get lost in all this abundance.

Savings perspective

In the perspective of saving, we should look at the whole picture and see what items are of importance to us to have a higher quality of life. Do we really want to work to exhaustion so we can afford things we don’t need?

Is it more important for us to spend time with our loved ones or buy some kind of luxury car to show ourselves to people we don’t care about at all? I want to hear what you think, comment, or send me a message.

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