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We don't yet know very much about the "typical" compulsive buyer. To be sure, several research studies support the popular stereotype, pinpointing a thirty-something female who experiences irresistible urges, uncontrollable needs, or mounting tension that can only be relieved by the compulsive buying of clothing, jewelry, and cosmetics, [and] who has been buying compulsively since her late teens or early twenties. Read on for more.

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The "Typical" Compulsive Buyer

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The "Typical" Compulsive Buyer

Dr. April Benson - 9/5/2007

We don't yet know very much about the "typical" compulsive buyer. To be sure, several research studies support the popular stereotype, pinpointing a thirty-something female who experiences irresistible urges, uncontrollable needs, or mounting tension that can only be relieved by the compulsive buying of clothing, jewelry, and cosmetics, [and] who has been buying compulsively since her late teens or early twenties (Black et al. 1997, Christenson et al. 1994, Scherhorn et al. 1990). But there are serious methodological questions about these studies, which tend to rely on self-selected subjects. More likely, the spectrum of compulsive buyers is wide, reflecting a set of people who differ from one another in age and gender, in socioeconomic status, in patterns of buying, in the intensity of their compulsion, and in underlying motivation. This diversity suggests that efforts to capture the essence of the archetypal consumer are likely to be fruitless.

Thus, for every well-known name in the Who's Who of Chronic Shoppers-Princess Diana, Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, Imelda Marcos, and even Mary Todd Lincoln, who needed eighty four pairs of gloves before she could move into the White House-there are dozens or hundreds of unknowns. And the disorder is not restricted to women. No less a personage than George Washington was reported to have had a "consuming passion" for shopping, a habit that he tried (but failed) to support by consigning his tobacco or other cash crops to his creditors. Both he and Abraham Lincoln (even before he met Mary Todd) were "chronic debtors" (Catalano and Sonenberg 1993; Seelye l998, Wesson 1990). Male or female, rich or poor, famous or not, youthful or middle-aged-there is no convenient identifying demographic.

Until recently, most of the literature on compulsive buying adopted a simple, dichotomous classification; an individual either was or was not afflicted (DeSarbo and Edwards 1996). Now we are beginning to take a closer look. Investigators are differentiating among such patterns of behavior as compulsive daily shopping, occasional but consequential shopping "binges," compulsive collecting, image spending, bulimic spending, codependent spending, buying multiples of each item, compulsive bargain-hunting, compulsive hoarding, and ceaseless buy-return cycles. As yet, however, there is little or no empirical data about these patterns.

Somewhat more has been done to investigate the compulsive buying continuum and the psychological subtypes of buyers. Providing theoretical constructs for the empirical work that followed, Albanese (l988) proposed a consumption continuum ranging from the stable and consistent consumer to the compulsive, addictive, and irrational consumer, based on Kernberg's (l976) object relations theory of personality. And although they did not test it empirically, Valence et al. (l988) created a typology of compulsive buyers that includes the em...

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