Faculty of Economics and Business Administration Publications Database

Can't buy me love... or can I? Social capital attainment through conspicuous consumption in virtual environments

Spann, Martin
Hann, Il-Horn
Volume: 26
Number: 4
Pages: 859 - 870
Month: September
ISSN-Print: 1047-7047
Link External Source: Online Version
Year: 2015
Keywords: Social status; Social capital; Conspicuous consumption; Prestige goods; Virtual worlds; Randomized field experiment

Conspicuous consumption affects anyone who cares about social status; it has intrigued sociologists and economists for more than 100 years. The idea that conspicuous consumption can increase social status, as a form of social capital, has been broadly accepted, yet researchers have not been able to test this effect empirically. In this work, we provide empirical evidence by analyzing the digital footprints of purchases and social interactions in different virtual worlds. We use a multimethod approach, such that we both analyze transactional data and conduct a randomized field experiment. Virtual worlds, as artificial laboratories, offer the opportunity to analyze the social capital of their inhabitants, subsequent to their purchase of virtual prestige goods, which provides a means to empirically test hypotheses that would be nearly impossible to test in real-world settings. Our results are consistent with the notion that conspicuous consumption represents an investment in social capital.