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PROGRAMME FOR THE PREVENTION AND TREATMENT OF PERSONAL PROBLEMS RELATED TO CONSUMER ADDICTION, PERSONAL PURCHASING HABITS AND OVER-INDEBTEDNESS

CONCLUSIONSAND RECOMMENDATIONS OF EUROPEAN UNION

Carried out in:

CASTILLA-LA MANCHA(SPAIN)

SCOTLAND (GREATBRITAIN)

LOMBARDY (ITALY)

TUSCANY (ITALY)

CONCLUSIONS

1.- A third of the adult European consumers haveproblems of lack of control in buying or spending.

The majority of the adult European consumers (66.78%) havean acceptable level of self-control when buying and spending.However, the results of the study show that 33.22% of theconsumers, that is, approximately one third, present a high levelof addiction to rash or unnecessary consumption, serious problemsof impulsive buying, or an obvious lack of financial self-control.The percentage of addition is 32% in the case of men and 34% inthe case of women.

Within the group of addicts, 55% (18% of the total)present a light or moderate addiction, and 45% (15% of the total)considerable addiction. 3% reach levels that can be considered aspathological.

2.- Buying addiction, impulsive buying, lack offinancial self-control and the tendency to over-indebtedness arenot problems that occur separately, but in 95% of the cases theycan be found together in the same consumers.

This means that, although conceptually the behaviours orproblems are different, they can be considered as part of onesingle and worrying behavioural pattern of certain people.Therefore, from hereon, we will use the term "consumeraddiction" to refer to this behavioural pattern.

On the contrary, what has been called consumer stimuli (variableA of the questionnaire), that is, attraction for going round theshops, window-shopping, spending time in shopping centres, etc.,is a different behavioural pattern, which is not always relatedto the above. This happens in the case of women, whilst the youngmen present addiction to buying stimuli and consumer additionassociated with each other.

3.- The main causes of consumer addiction have beenthe following:

a) Pre-existence of a type of characteristic personality,which is self-denominated as "capricious". This term,taken in a colloquial sense, would correspond to a person withstrong hedonist tendencies towards consumption. This feature,together with impulsiveness and a relatively high level ofanxiety related to buying, configure the psychological profile ofthe addict.

b) Personal dissatisfaction and lack of incentives orvital stimuli other than consumption. This sentiment, typical ofa consumer addict, would be more related to a feeling of tediumor boredom than with a depressive state. Depression only seems tobe related to consumer addiction in a small number of cases,although they may be the most serious cases.

c) A high degree of credulity, lack of critical attitudeand vulnerability towards advertisements, together with greaterexposure to the media where these messages are more frequent. Asthe study has reflected, the percentage of addicts whoacknowledge watching a lot of television doubles that of non-addicts.

d) The greater acceptance of a certain type of consumerideas and values, such as the belief that personal prestige,status and social consideration depend on the things that one canbuy.

Another type of factors that would be related to consumeraddiction in adults, although in a less important way than theprevious factors, are low self-esteem, the greater desire forsocial stimulus or being attracted by places where there are alot of people and lack of security respect to one's own physicalattraction.

4.- Women have turned out to be quite significantlymore addicted to consumer stimuli.

This has been revealed in all the questions related toattraction to shops, window-shopping, accompanying other peopleto do their shopping, going into department stores even thoughthey have nothing to buy, etc. (variable A). It is also obviousthat women use buying more to cope with situations of sadness,feeling down or depression.

However there are no significant differences between menand women respect to impulsive buying, nor respect to self-controlor imbalance in spending, (variables B and C).

No significant differences have been found, either,between men and women in the other answers indirectly related tobuying behaviour (acceptance of consumer values, distrust ofpublicity, etc.).

5.- Young people have a much higher level ofaddiction to buying stimuli, and a much lower level of financialself-control than adults.

The study has revealed that, without exception, in all thequestions referring to the attraction of visiting shops, shopping,or spending money impulsively, young people clearly exceed theadults.

What we have called "consumer addiction", whichcan be considered a moderately important problem in adults, is aserious problem in young people. This is so, not only due to thecurrent extension of consumer addition among young people, butabove all, because it makes one fear that the current generationof young people may, in the future, become adults with seriousproblems of impulsive buying, over-indebtedness and consumeraddiction.

6.- The majority of the young European consumershave a considerable consumerist tendency and buying addiction.

In all the European regions where the study has beencarried out, it has been observed that, for young people,shopping is an extremely attractive activity, one of theenjoyable things (perhaps the most enjoyable?) that can be donein a city. They like going into shopping centres, whether theyhave to buy something or not. They have a permanent desire to goshopping and purchase new things. Their degree of impulsivenessin buying and lack of financial responsibility and self-controlis very high.

In addition, the majority of the young people accept theconsumer society and all the values and behaviours associatedwith it without criticism or reserves. In fact, the acceptance ofconsumer values and the greater vulnerability respect toadvertisements, which, in adults is a differentiatingcharacteristic of addicts, is majority in young people.

Due to its possible relationship with consumer addictionproblems, we must express that the young people's answers haveshown a relatively high level of personal dissatisfaction, aboveall in comparison with the adults. This level of dissatisfactionis even more intense in young women.

7.- The proportion of young "consumer addicts"is much greater than that of adults.

From the data, 46% are consumer addicts (including in thisterm those who feel an intense attraction for buying stimuli andthose that lack self-control in consuming and spending) and 54%are non-addicts. The difference between men and women is moreaccused in adults, as the addiction percentage is 53% in the caseof young women and 39% in the case of young men.

Within the group of addicts 44% would present a light ormoderate addiction (20% of the total), and 56% a considerablelevel (26% of the total). Approximately 8% of the young peoplehave a consumer addiction level that can be considered aspathological.

8.- The main causes of consumer addiction in youngpeople have turned out to be the following:

a) As in the case of adults, the pre-existence of somespecific psychological features that combine being "capricious"with impulsiveness, fragility and a high level of anxiety relatedto buying.

b) Personal dissatisfaction, the feeling of tedium orboredom and the lack of non-consumer incentives, which is veryfrequent in young people.

c) The greater acceptance of consumer values and thepsychological vulnerability towards the messages that relateconsumption with happiness, social success and personal prestige.

d) The attraction for consumer stimuli as well as spendingtime in hypermarkets and large shopping centres, watchingadvertisements, window-shopping, going into shops, although it isjust to look, etc., are activities that on their own cannot beconsidered as consumption, but which, in young people, cause avery intense effect of inciting them to buy and make thempredisposed to consumer addiction.

e) The low level of self-esteem and distrust of one's ownskills or abilities.

A curious fact that appears in the study is that, unlikethe adults, the young people who are happier with their physicalaspects are the consumer addicts.

9.- Young women are more addicted to consumer andbuying stimuli.

As in the case of adults, after the comparative study ofthe data, it has been verified that young women score much higherin all the questions related to addiction to consumerist stimuliand buying stimuli (variable A), the differences being much lesssignificant, and often non-existing, with respect to variable B,that is, impulsive buying and lack of spending control. There areno differences either between sexes in the other questions, suchas acceptance of the consumer society and of the values andhabits it entails, attitude towards publicity, etc.

10.- The differences in behaviour among adults ofGreat Britain, Spain and Italy, (that is inter-regionaldifferences) are minimal.

In fact, the similarities between the distributions of themajority of the answers are significant, above all the intra-regionaldifferences regarding sex and age. The consumer addiction levelis very similar in all the regions.

However, there are aspects where significant differenceshave appeared in some of the regions. These differences areincluded in the analysis of previous data (Section IV 1 and 2).

11.- Young Scottish people are the ones who aremost attracted by buying, who have greater consumer addiction andless financial self-control. The young Italians are relativelyless consumerist and have more self-control in buying, theSpaniards being in an intermediate position.

Although the inter-territorial differences among the youngpeople are relative small respect to the differences betweenyoung people/adults or between men/women, certain differentbehaviours have been revealed. In general, in the distribution ofanswers the young Spaniards and Italians are much more similar toeach other than the Scottish young people.

RECOMMENDATIONS

1.- The first recommendation is that the PublicInstitutions, the consumer associations, parents and educators,and in short, the whole society should become aware of theimportance of the personal and social problems that derive fromconsumer addiction, that is, impulsive buying, lack of self-controland responsibility in consumption and spending, personal over-indebtedness,etc.

Not just the current problem that this represents must betaken into account, but also the fact that, as it affects youngpeople to a great extent, it is a problem that is going to growover the coming years, until it becomes one of the most importantchallenges of tomorrow's society.

It is not just a question of this behaviour being able todamage the individual well-being, family life or of it beingcounterproductive for the correct financial and socialdevelopment of a country. It must also be considered that thesociety of the future is going to have to modify many consumerhabits that are ecologically unsustainable, adopting much moreresponsible and rational behaviour. This will not be possible, ifon an individual level, the people are trapped in unsuitablespending and consumer habits, and by addictive behaviour that he/sheis not able to modify.

2.- To achieve the objective indicated above, itwould be advisable for the consumer related Institutions andorganisations, to start up specific awareness-raising andprevention campaigns.

Apart from the dissemination of the Self-help andInformation Manual for consumers which has already been done, thepreparation of other supports (video programmes to be shown ontelevision, Web pages, radio programmes, press articles, etc.)could be considered, as they would facilitate the disseminationof its content and recommendations.

3.- It is essential to intensify the education ofchildren and young people as responsible and self-controlledconsumers.

This training must be included very seriously and strictlyin children's and young people's education programmes, as it willbe essential for their personal and social well-being anddevelopment in the future. Within this education, aspects such asself-control in personal spending, household accounts, suitableattitudes towards advertisements, rational consumer habits, thesignificance and adequate use of credit instruments and cards,etc. must be contemplated. For this purpose, it would beadvisable for the Didactic Units and the material alreadyprepared, to be complemented with other audio-visual and computersupports to facilitate the teaching.

4.- Provide parents with adequate recommendationsrespect to the education of their children as responsibleconsumers.

It would be a question of training the parents in theirrole as first educators and making them see the need to notreinforce the more capricious or consumer behaviour.

5.- Foster non-consumer leisure activities inchildren or young people.

In accordance with the data of the study, the difficultyto find activities or amusements that do not mean spending money,is one of the greatest problems that young people find, and oneof the factors that most conditions their consumer addiction.Fostering healthy, positive and non-consumer activities in thechildren's and young people's leisure time must be one of themost important objectives in the social progress of the comingyears.

6.- The limitation of any kind of publicity orcommercial offers that stimulate buying on credit, hiding thereal effects that these purchases will have for the consumer.

As an example, the total price of the item offered,including interests, could be included in any kind of offer ofbuying on credit. This simple procedure would dissuade a largemajority of the consumers from making unsuitable purchases orending up in situations of over-indebtedness.

7.- Offering psychological help and advice,creating self-help groups and creating the figure of "voluntarytutor" for consumer addicts.

For those consumers who have serious consumer addictionand over-indebtedness problems, a "voluntary tutor"must be offered, who would help them learn to adapt theirspending to their income level and to prevent or solve situationsof over-indebtedness. Psychological help and advice must also beoffered to these consumers, fostering the creation of self-helpgroups, which may be very adequate for this type of problems,within the consumer associations.

8.- Possibility of limiting one's own creditpurchases in advance.

For the most extreme cases of consumers with a strongtendency towards impulsive spending or over-indebtedness, thepossibility of voluntary (or at times forced) limitation in theuse of credit instrument or cards. The modern computer meanswould facilitate this measure as they do in a similar fashion forgambling addicts.

asalcedo@jccm.es

 

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