Social Class & Consumer Behavior
Social class is the segment of a society arrived at by a hierarchical classification of individuals and families with a distinct status. The members of each class have relatively the same status. The status denotes the aggregate effect of the members of a class. Analysis of the characteristics of the social class will help the marketer to understand its consumption pattern.
1. The members of each class have relatively the same status
A social class is defined by the amount of status, which the members of that class have in comparison with members of other social classes. The members in a particular social class have relatively the same status. An individual or family achieves social class by acquisition of skills, education, wealth and recognition. The status of the member reflects the aggregate effect of influence and recognition conferred on them by the society. This in turn is either more or less than the status of other classes.
2. Persons within a given class tend to behave alike
Social classes are homogeneous divisions of the society. Each social class shows similar life-styles, values, status, prestige and interests. So, the behavior pattern of the members become similar. There are also shared attitudes and behavioral pattern among members. So, the behavioral pattern differs among social classes. For example, a person belonging to middle class prefers economically priced cars. But upper income group will prefer highly priced cars. Thus, social classes exhibit varying buying pattern in purchase of products that meets the life-style, status and prestige of their members.
3. Social class is hierarchical
Social class is determined by a hierarchical classification of individuals and families with a distinct status. Families can climb the social ladder by achievement of members. When each generation within a family tends to do better, there is an upward mobility in the social ladder. When young adults have less disposable income than their successful parents, they may slide down in the class hierarchy. The hierarchical aspect of social class is important to marketers. Consumers may prefer to purchase products favored by their own or higher social class (e.g. imported luxury automobiles). Consumers may avoid certain products because they perceive the products to be lower class products.
4. Social class is measured by a combination of variables
Researchers use a combination of variables to measure social class. A number of socioeconomic factors are combined to form one over all members of social class standing. They better reflect the complexity of social class than a single variable. For example, to know the consumer perceptions of mail and phone order shopping, the socioeconomic status was studied by using a composite of income occupational status and education. It reveals that higher the socioeconomic status, the more positive are the consumers ratings of mail and phone order buying, relative to in-store shopping.
5. Social class is mobile
Social class membership is not hard and fixed. Individuals can move either up or down in social class standing. The availability of free education and opportunities for self-development prompts success in business and in life. Successful persons move up to the higher class. Today, many young men and women start their own business to have higher social status. Higher social classes become reference groups for ambitious men and women of lower social status. Signs of upward mobility are found in India. For instance, plastic surgery was once affordable only for movie stars and other wealthy people. Today, consumers of all economic strata undergo cosmetic surgery.
6. Social class and status differentiation
Researchers measure social class in terms of social status. They define each social class by the amount of status of the members of that class. It is also known as “Social stratification“. Social stratification has resulted in differentiated roles. For example, a person with higher status owns a car. A middle class status person owns a two-wheeler. A person with lower status owns a bicycle. This is the symbolic identification of role and status based on social classification.