“Inconspicuous Consumption” Is Rising and Driving Growth for the Wellness Industry

By Thierry Malleret, economist 

The joint forces of the pandemic and the climate crisis have accelerated a trend already brewing below the surface for some years: the rise of inconspicuous consumption. Nowadays, conspicuous consumption (i.e., buying expensive stuff for signaling) is often seen as vulgar, at least in the Western world, and is increasingly replaced by new forms of consumption reflecting very different social priorities.

For affluent consumers, it’s no longer a question of material accumulation but rather about embracing new markers of distinction, like buying into wellness and “purpose.” These mainly take place in services (the “non-tradable” sector), where it’s harder to improve productivity. In this particular case, less growth would be a sign of social progress. Another win for wellness and an important contributor to the expansion of the wellness industry!

And this shift underpins another trend that will benefit our collective wellbeing: the four-day week. It won’t happen overnight, and resistance from vested interests and the past imposition of cultural/social norms will be fierce, but the evidence is accruing in support of the belief that a four-day working week could become the norm. It has been tried and tested with success across different countries and diverse companies (including “giants” like Microsoft Japan). A new research project in Iceland has yielded results that powerfully boost the arguments in favor of a four-day week. The experiment conducted by the Icelandic government and Reykjavik City Council between 2015 and 2019 shows that reducing working hours while keeping the same pay did not affect overall output and even improved it in some places.

The positive impact on wellbeing was noticeable, with employees/workers reporting less stress and a feeling of better health (men even started doing a bigger share of the household chores!). Since the end of this massive experiment, almost 90% of Iceland’s workers have either moved to shorter working hours or gained the right to do so. Iceland, ranked second globally in the most recent World Happiness Report, is paving the way. Why not follow?

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