Who We Are and Who We Are Becoming

As a long-term resident of the Boston area and a college professor, it’s heartening to learn that Bostonians spend more on college than residents of others cities.  As I write yet another blog entry based on a newspaper article, it’s also no surprise to learn that Bostonians spend 40% more than the national average on newspapers and magazines.  On the other hand, I feel a bit miffed to learn that Seattle residents are the nation’s leaders in book purchasing (68% above average).

If those figures seem reasonable to you, what do you make of the finding that New York city residents spend 597% more than the national average on watches, while expenditures on women’s dresses are 290% above average in Phoenix?  Not to mention spending on dating services is 261% above average in Detroit.

University of Southern California Professor Elizabeth Currid-Halkett analyzed data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Consumer Expenditure Survey to identify differences among cities in household spending between 2007 and 2012.  She argues that “the geography of conspicuous consumption shows us who we are and who we are becoming”–that spending patterns may indicate cultural, political, and social differences. But Professor Currid-Halkett also points out that people may self-select into certain cities based on their spending patterns or that cities may shape residents’ spending patterns.  Either way, the result may be increasing differences between cities.

Do you think that such spending differences indicate cultural orientations?  Do you think they are more likely due to selection effects–like attracts like–or internal pressures for conformity to local norms? How could you conduct an analysis like this using “Big Data” on spending patterns rather than survey data?

You can read more about this study in a New York Times article at http://www.nytimes.com/2014/12/14/opinion/sunday/what-people-buy-where.html?_r=0.  Be sure to check out the graph for your city.  How did Professor Currid-Halkett take account of differences in city population?  How did she consider income differences?

This entry was posted in Chapter 1, Chapter 14, Chapter 16, Chapter 4, Chapter 6, Chapter 9 and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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