Schor: Well, I did a study of that. I don't know of another one that's ever been done, but what I showed—and I talk about this in my book The Overspent American book—is that people whose reference groups is in a better economic or financial situation than they are have much reduced savings and vice versa. I think that's excellent advice.
Rosen: One major inflection point for people’s consumption patterns is the moment they become parents, and suddenly there are all these things they supposedly need. Even for parents who reject excessive consumerism on ecological or other moral grounds, it can be very hard to resist the pressure to provide for your child in certain material ways. What is going on? And, likewise, why is it so hard to insulate kids from the pressure to become American-style consumers themselves?
Answer: I'm not sure I've seen research on [that first quest] and I haven't specifically researched it myself, [but] I do think there’s both a psychological and a social dimension to it, which is that people are probably less likely to take risks when they have children. Being an outlier is a riskier thing.
I have a better sense of the second question which is why it's so hard to insulate kids. The social pressures around lifestyle or consumption conformity are really high with kids because people worry about their children being different and excluded, so that sense of social fitting-in is really strong.
People don't want to raise their kids in ways that are too, too different from their context. This is why it's not hard to do it when you're in a community where other people are doing it. So, if you think about, for example, religious communities that raise their children in different ways, ways that are more insulated, or immigrant communities—for them it's a lot easier because they have those social networks and contexts where [some deviation from mainstream consumption is] a norm. I think it's really hard for the mainstream folks and that's why, if you can, try and intentionally create connections with other people who are doing it in less consumerist ways, or, one of the things I tried to do with my kids, was to steer them toward friends who were also somewhat insulated.
Rosen: How successful are people with that approach and do you see it catching on? I read your New York Times review earlier this year about, in part, why thrift never seems to really catch on in America. Is this changing?
Schor: I think there is a growing and increasingly significant movement of people who are articulating a different set of values and trying to live in different ways. It's really different today than when I wrote The Overspent American, which came out in the late ’90s. It's much more mainstream now, but you've got a couple of different incarnations, or different social manifestations, which I guess would be the right word, which do connect with race, class, and education.