Of Peacocks and Porsches
Ferragamo, Rolex and Prada . . .
Pyramids that touch the
heavens. Italian shoes handmade
from the finest leather.
The watch that announces
that you own time itself. Through the
pages of history and into modern times,
displays of conspicuous consumption
are as numerous as they are grand.
Defined by Thorstein Veblen in the
late 1800s, conspicuous consumption
is an economic behavior wherein one
"attains and exhibits costly items to impress
upon others that one possesses
wealth or status."
Just as peacocks display their big,
flashy tails to attract a peahen, the
modern-day man uses Porsches and
other luxury items to show off, and specifically, to attract a mate.
To better understand this time-honored
tradition, Jill Sundie, assistant
professor in the College of Business,
and colleagues from Rice University,
Arizona State University, the University
of Minnesota and the University
of New Mexico undertook a four-part
study entitled "Peacocks, Porsches
and Thorstein Veblen: Conspicuous
Consumption as a Sexual Signaling
"It really wasn’t a surprise when our
studies revealed that some women are
attracted to a man who conspicuously
consumes," Sundie said. "A physically
attractive man who drives a flashy car,
such as a Porsche, was more desirable
for a date than the same man if he instead
drove a Honda Civic."
Further, their research suggested
that men who engage in conspicuous
consumption, and specifically those
who utilize it to attract mates, were
more likely to be seeking uncommitted,
short-term sexual relationships.
"However," Sundie said with a
chuckle, "make no mistake about it,
women have figured it out."
During the final study, the researchers
measured perception of conspicuous
consumption—that is, what
women actually think about all those
peacock plumes. And the results are
ruffling a few feathers.
"What this study suggests is that
women are wise to the game. Yes, an
attractive man who drives a Porsche
is more desirable, but only for a date,"
Sundie said. In other words, the same
luxury items that men use to attract a
mate had no impact on a man’s desirability
when it comes to a woman’s selection
of a long-term partner. Women,
it seems, also equate men’s conspicuous
consumption with an interest in
having uncommitted sexual relationships.
"Prior research indicates that many
college-age women are not very open
to uncommitted sexual relationships.
These women are more likely to be
looking for faithful, committed partnerships,"
concluded Sundie. "At the
end of the day, a man spending money
on these very flashy and expensive
items does not convey that message
of intended commitment to a potential