in: Joan Martínez-Alier / Roldan Muradian (eds.), Handbook of ecological economics, Cheltenham: Elgar, 360-381
The decline of poverty around the world in the last decades is great news. But the rise of mass consumption on a radically new scale raises serious questions about its environmental sustainability. While patterns of aggregate consumption in developing countries are becoming clearer, the behavior of individual consumers of the so-called new middle classes is less well known: non-Western consumers are adopting some aspects of Western culture, but their behavior is far from being homogenized in any predictable way. We draw from recent insights in behavioral psychology, marketing and consumer studies to provide a picture of what we know of about non-Western consumers. After reviewing the rise of the new global middle classes and its ecological implications, we address the question of convergence versus divergence in global consumer behavior, suggesting that globalization does not beget Westernization. We then identify four key patterns about consumer behavior in the new global middle classes: (1) Materialism and consumerism appear across cultures and income levels; (2) income is not a good predictor of people’s wants; (3) values and culture do not automatically change with wealth; and (4) the embrace of Westernization is selective. We conclude by discussing the implications of these findings for sustainability.