Affluents Rising Up The Hierarchy Of Needs

As unemployment fears ease, Affluents are increasingly “rising up” the hierarchy of needs, and bringing a new mindset to the marketplace.

Several decades ago, psychologist Abraham Maslow described human needs as being arranged in a hierarchy, listed below, starting with the most fundamental needs, and rising to the “peak”:

  • physiological (food, shelter)
  • security (personal safety, a steady job)
  • social (relationships, love)
  • esteem (self-worth, accomplishment)
  • self-actualization (personal growth, self-awareness)

Over the years, many have quibbled with his arrangement of the hierarchy, or the unscientific nature of Maslow’s work (researchers today’s would charitably describe it as qualitative and anecdotal). But at least conceptually, it offers a powerful idea – individuals struggling to satisfy certain needs will struggle to meet any needs further up the hierarchy. Not much self-actualization can happen when one is struggling to meet basic needs for food and shelter, or so the theory goes.

The notion of “rising up the hierarchy of needs” nicely characterizes several elements of Affluent behavior today. The need for a steady job, and the resulting confidence about future cash flow, are fundamental needs that were called into question in 2008, and have remained nagging concerns throughout the sluggish recovery. While Affluents still have concerns about the long-term health of the U.S. economy, our data shows their personal unemployment fears easing, allowing Affluents to rise further up the hierarchy. Consider the “higher-level” needs involved in several emerging trends …

  • A rise in discretionary spending: For example, our annual Affluent Survey USA reports that spending is trending up for sporting equipment such as golf clubs, tennis racquets and skis
  • A new focus on leisure time: Look for a greater focus on interests and passions, both in terms of personal engagement (e.g., hobbies, crafts) as well as media engagement with interests and passions
  • More wanderlust: Our Affluent Barometer tracking surveys report signs of continued travel growth; few categories are more discretionary, experiential and personal-growth-focused than travel
  • A (financial) growth mindset: With saving less of an immediate concern, Affluents are pivoting toward a mindset more focused on growth and investment
  • Reward programs: While Affluents remain value-oriented (and more fee-sensitive than one might expect), their interest in additional benefits such as reward programs shows evidence of rising

Affluent spending today is hardly carefree, and we have not returned to the “my future’s so bright, I gotta wear shades” attitude of 2005-07. But at the same time, it is equally clear that Affluents are rising up the hierarchy of needs, presenting new opportunities for Affluent-focused media and marketers.

Tags: affluent
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