Journal Article

Class, Cohort, and Consumption: The British Experience of the Third Age

Chris Gilleard, Paul Higgs, Martin Hyde, Richard Wiggins and David Blane

in The Journals of Gerontology: Series B

Published on behalf of The Gerontological Society of America

Volume 60, issue 6, pages S305-S310
Published in print November 2005 | ISSN: 1079-5014
Published online November 2005 | e-ISSN: 1758-5368 | DOI:
Class, Cohort, and Consumption: The British Experience of the Third Age

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  • Geriatric Medicine
  • Psychology
  • Gerontology and Ageing


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Objectives. This study examines the relative effect of historical and social class location on engagement in consumerism within two different cohorts of retired people in the United Kingdom.

Methods. With use of self-reported data from the retired members of a nationally representative survey, an index of consumption was constructed. Its internal reliability was analysed and analyses of variance performed to examine the impact of class of origin, cohort, and class at exit on levels of self-reported “consumerism.”

Results. The index demonstrated sufficient internal reliability to provide an operational measurement of “consumerism” within this retired population. Analyses of variance confirmed that class at exit and cohort but not class of origin contributed significantly to variation in levels of consumerism. These effects were not mediated by cohort differences in health.

Discussion. Occupational standing immediately before retirement was associated with “consumerism” after retirement. This is unsurprising. The results also show that birth cohort exercised a stronger historical influence on current consumption in later life than did class background (i.e., paternal social class). This supports our thesis that the limited but increasing immersion in mass consumer society of successive cohorts who were born and grew up earlier in the 20th century continues to be reflected in levels of “consumerism” in retirement.

Journal Article.  5740 words. 

Subjects: Geriatric Medicine ; Psychology ; Gerontology and Ageing

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