A society in which a large proportion of members possess purchasing power in excess of that required for any necessary level of well-being is categorized as affluent. In an affluent society, most individuals satisfy their basic sustenance, accommodation, and entertainment needs. Beyond that level, sufficient wealth exists for many people to consume goods that offer only trivial value. An affluent society has resources to protect members from problems such as the loss of income and extra expense due to unemployment and health crises.
With the availability of a wide range of goods, many of which consumers do not need, producers are forced to create a demand through marketing and advertising. Continued economic growth requires the continuous creation of new demands to absorb the ever-increasing volume of production. Consumer purchases become increasingly influenced by the marketing of brand images rather than specific products.
Even in the midst of affluence, an inequality of wealth exists, with some people living in great poverty. As the requirements of producers evolve to take precedence over those of consumers, individuals who lack enough disposable income to afford the advertised lifestyle frequently buy on credit, leading them to live beyond their means. Demands by individual consumers, encouraged by marketing, may increase at the expense of the public good. Consumers who move to the suburbs for bigger, newer homes cause increased poverty in the inner urban areas and a crumbling infrastructure in many of the formerly tax-wealthy cities. The tax burden shifts to the expanding suburbs (for road, sanitation, water, and other systems) and lessens the amount of tax money available to major cities.
In the United States, the post–World War II era produced a period of affluence beginning in the 1950s.Most Americans realized an increase in disposable income, even though the majority of women remained outside the workforce. Families during this period purchased automobiles, homes in the suburbs, and modern appliances. Poverty did continue but remained overshadowed by the affluence of the majority.
During the 1960s it became apparent that not everyone in the United States enjoyed a prosperous lifestyle. President Lyndon B. Johnson attempted to address this disparity in wealth through the Great Society program. However, a gap continues to exist into the twenty-first century.
Galbraith, John Kenneth. The Affluent Society. 2d ed. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1969.
See also Consumer Spending.