Luxury or necessity? That’s the question the Pew Research Center asked Americans on a range of 14 consumer products designed to help make everyday life more productive, convenient, comfortable, efficient or entertaining. The results were compared to a similar survey conducted 10 years ago and it was found there are more things now we just can’t live without.
Some interesting responses were recorded in this latest survey of 2,000 adults—such as, fewer people said a car was a necessity in 2006 than did in 1996; and two items from the information age that seem to be everywhere—cell phones and home computers—actually fell in the middle of the pack with about half of the respondents saying they were necessities. If one pattern was consistent, Pew Researchers found, it is that when there has been a significant change in our judgment about an item, it has most nearly always been in the direction of becoming a necessity. The more things we have around us the more likely we are to begin thinking they are needed.
There were some age differences in the responses. More than twice as many younger adults (age 18 to 29) consider home computers and high-speed Internet access necessary, but more older adults consider items such as home air conditioning, dishwashers and clothes washers and dryers necessary. There were two things we seem to agree on. Age made little or no difference in deciding how necessary it is to have a car and a microwave.
Men were slightly more inclined to think of microwaves and dishwashers as necessities. Women were slightly more inclined to see automobile air conditioning as a necessity. (Otherwise, the survey found no sizable gender differences.)
Four items—cell phone, high-speed Internet, flat-screen television and iPod—have no comparisons to 1996 because those products either didn’t exist then or were not asked about.
The Pew survey is based on telephone interviews conducted with a nationally representative sample of 2,000 adults age 18 and older. The margin of error ± 2.5 percent.