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Affluenza, a portmanteau of the words affluence and influenza, is a term used by critics of capitalism and consumerism. Sources define this term as follows:

affluenza, n. a painful, contagious, socially transmitted condition of overload, debt, anxiety and waste resulting from the dogged pursuit of more. (de Graaf [1])
affluenza, n. 1. The bloated, sluggish and unfulfilled feeling that results from efforts to keep up with the Joneses. 2. An epidemic of stress, overwork, waste and indebtedness caused by the pursuit of the American Dream. 3. An unsustainable addiction to economic growth. (PBS [1])

Proponents of the term consider that the prizing of endless increases in material wealth may lead to feelings of worthlessness and dissatisfaction rather than experiences of a 'better life', and that these symptoms may be usefully captured with the metaphor of a disease. They claim some or even many of those who become wealthy will find the economic success leaving them unfulfilled and hungry only for more wealth, finding that they are unable to get pleasure from the things they buy and that increasingly material things may come to dominate their time and thoughts to the detriment of personal relationships and to feelings of happiness. The condition is considered particularly acute amongst those with inherited wealth, who are often said to experience guilt, lack of purpose and dissolute behavior, as well as obsession with holding on to the wealth. Proponents also note survey evidence that suggest that levels of happiness have not increased in the last 50 years of economic growth in the West[citation needed].

A potential criticism of the idea of affluenza is that it presents subjective social critique as an objective inevitable and debilitating illness.


The Affluenza theory

British psychologist Oliver James asserts that there is a correlation between the increasing nature of affluenza and the resulting increase in material inequality: the more unequal a society, the greater the unhappiness of its citizens.[2]. Referring to Vance Packard's thesis (The Hidden Persuaders) on the manipulative methods used by the advertising industry, James relates the stimulation of artificial needs to the rise in affluenza. To highlight the spread of affluenza in societies with varied levels of inequality, James interviewed people in several cities including Sydney, Singapore, Auckland, Moscow, Shanghai, Copenhagen and New York.

James also believes that higher rates of mental disorders are the consequence of excessive wealth-seeking in consumerist nations.[3]. He cites World Health Organization data that English-speaking nations have twice as much mental illness as mainland Europe: 23% vs 11.5%[when?]. James defines affluenza as 'placing a high value on money, possessions, appearances (physical and social) and fame,' and this becomes the rationale behind the increasing mental illness in English-speaking societies. He explains the greater incidence of affluenza as the result of 'Selfish Capitalism,' the Market Liberal political governance found in English-speaking nations as compared to the less selfish capitalism pursued in mainland Europe. James asserts that societies can remove the negative consumerist effects by pursuing real needs over perceived wants, and by defining themselves as having value independent of their material possessions.

Affluenza by country


Clive Hamilton and Richard Denniss' book[4] poses the question, "If the economy has been doing so well, why are we not becoming happier?" (pvii). They argue that affluenza causes over-consumption, "luxury fever", consumer debt, overwork, waste, and harm to the environment. These pressures lead to "psychological disorders, alienation and distress" (p179), causing people to "self-medicate with mood-altering drugs and excessive alcohol consumption" (p180).

They note that a number of Australians have reacted by "downshifting" — they decided to "reduce their incomes and place family, friends and contentment above money in determining their life goals." Their critique leads them to identify the need for an "alternative political philosophy," and the book concludes with a "political manifesto for wellbeing" (see [2]).

See also


  1. ^ Affluenza: The All-Consuming Epidemic, John de Graaf, David Wann & Thomas H. Naylor, ISBN 1-57675-199-6
  2. ^ James, Oliver (2007). Affluenza: How to Be Successful and Stay Sane. Vermilion. ISBN 9780091900113. 
  3. ^ James, Oliver (2008). The Selfish Capitalist. Vermilion. ISBN 9780091923815. 
  4. ^ Affluenza: When Too Much is Never Enough, Clive Hamilton and Richard Denniss, Allen & Unwin 2005, ISBN 1-74114-671-2

Further reading

External links


Up to date as of January 15, 2010

Definition from Wiktionary, a free dictionary




Blend of affluence and influenza




affluenza (uncountable)

  1. A feeling of dissatisfaction, anxiety, etc, caused by the dogged and ongoing pursuit of more.



affluenza f. (plural affluenze)

  1. attendance, turnout

Related terms

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