The Challenge of Affluence: Self-Control and Well-Being in the United States and Britain Since 1950

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Since the 1940s Americans and Britons have come to enjoy an era of unprecedented material abundance. Yet this has been accompanied by a range of social and personal disorders, including family breakdown, addiction, mental instability, crime, obesity, inequality, economic insecurity, and declining trust.

In this pioneering study, Avner Offer argues powerfully that a sense of well-being has lagged behind affluence in these societies because they present an environment in which consistent choices are difficult to achieve and in which the capacity for personal and social commitment is undermined by the flow of novelty. Drawing on both economics and social science, and making use of the latest cognitive research, The Challenge of Affluence provides a detailed and reasoned critique of modern consumer society, in particular the assumption that freedom of choice necessarily maximizes individual and social well-being.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"A fascinating, ambitious, wide-ranging, freewheeling books about the perils of affluence.... Offer's intellectual ambition is admirable, and he offers a coherent interpretation of a massive number of social and economic facts, trends, changes, and differences."—Bruce G. Carruthers, American Journal of Sociology
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780199216628
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press
  • Publication date: 12/20/2007
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Pages: 480
  • Product dimensions: 9.20 (w) x 6.10 (h) x 1.00 (d)

Meet the Author

Avner Offer is Chichele Professor of Economic History at the University of Oxford and Fellow of All Souls College. Prior to his academic career he spent eight years working as a soldier, farmer, and conservation worker in Israel, where he was born and raised. His other books include In Pursuit of the Quality of Life (1996), also published by Oxford University Press, and he has been researching the question of the quality of life in affluent societies since the early 1990s. He is also a Fellow of the British Academy.

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Table of Contents

List of Figures     xii
List of Tables     xiv
List of Abbreviations     xvi
Introduction     1
Evaluating Affluence
Economic Welfare Measurement and Human Well-Being     15
Passions and Interests: Self-Control and Well-Being     39
Choice: Myopic and Rational     59
The Economy of Regard     75
In the Market Place
The Mask of Intimacy: Advertising and the Quality of Life     103
Body Weight and Self-Control     138
Household Appliances and the Use of Time     170
The American Automobile Frenzy of the 1950s     193
Driving Prudently: American and European     210
Self and Others
Affluence and the Pursuit of Status     233
Inequality Hurts     270
All You Need is Love? Mating since the 1950s     303
Women and Children Last: The Retreat from Commitment     335
Conclusion     357
Bibliography     373
Index     445
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