While the $10 billion self-help industry is expected to increase to $14 billion by 2025, a new study from Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business shows that consumers who have a strong relationship with God are less likely to spend money in that market.
However, according to a study published in the Journal of Consumer Research, there were some indications that more God-conscious people can still be lured with products that promise spiritual growth and development.
Duke marketing professor Keisha Cutright, a co-author of the study with Lauren Grewal and Ph.D. graduate Eugenia C. Wu, said their findings prove true across a number of religions and Christian denominations.
“Ultimately, what we found is that when people are thinking about God, they have a sense that they are loved for exactly who they are,” Cutright said in a statement from Fuqua School of Business. “So it’s not as important to them to go buy all these products in the marketplace that marketers say will make them better.”
People who believe in God or a higher power have a “greater sense of being loved for who you are (‘loved ‘as-is’’), making self-improvement a lower priority,” the study's abstract explains.
Researchers evaluated a number of studies and archival data to determine how much people feel loved as they are — a feature known as "God salience."
In one study, researchers examined consumer behavior in nearly 400 U.S. counties to study how it correlated with the number of congregations per 1,000 residents. They found that grocery shoppers in counties with a higher density of religious congregations spent less on products marketed to improve their health, like low-fat milk or yogurt.
The researchers noted that "God salience" is less likely to decrease interest in self-improvement products when consumers do not believe in God and when God is considered a punishing (vs. loving) entity.
“What really matters is how people think about God,” Cutright said. “When people think about God as a loving, forgiving entity, that’s when they are not as interested in self-improvement products. But when we come across people who think about God as an authoritarian or punishing figure, this effect no longer exists, and they show more interest in self-improvement products.”
He noted that the findings of this research could help marketers promote self-improvement products.
“Marketers may want to shy away from contexts where there will be a lot of religious programming, or geographically, in places that are highly religious,” Cutright said.
She added that products that will help religious communities strengthen their walk with God would likely do better.
“Another aspect we explored is how participants would respond to the idea that God wants to encourage their improvement, in terms of their spiritual growth and development,” Cutright said. “We found that by introducing this idea, the effect of lowering their interest in these products went away. So there may be ways to tap into people’s desires for spiritual improvement — perhaps by having an endorser for the products or spokesperson who has strong ties to a religious community.”