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The impact of increased income on peasant want patterns in Mexico's southern Gulf Lowlands Ford, G. Marilyn

Abstract

This paper examines the changes that take place in want patterns when unaccustomed purchasing power is made available to peasant agriculturalists as a result of a recent Government-sponsored development project in the Mexican Gulf Lowlands. It is hypothesized that increased cash income stimulates changes in peasant expenditure patterns and that corresponding changes in wants can be identified. In order to measure the changes that have taken place in expenditure and make inferences about wants, a detailed study has been undertaken of patterns of income and expenditure in a sample group selected within the Plan compared with a control group of peasants outside of the immediate project area. The comparison between the sample groups supports the hypothesis. However, no simple link was found between increased purchasing power and consumption. The initial period of new want development consequent on income increase was characterized by extensive experimental spending on a wide variety of superficial wants, which are unlikely to be incorporated as deep-seated components of the consumption pattern since they are based on short-term impulses prompted by curiosity and prestige motives. Consequently, increased expenditure on want satisfaction had achieved relatively little impact on the standard of living. It was concluded that the main significance of increased income in this context is that it acts as a catalyst to change in wants and brings the consumer to the point where satisfaction of potential wants is possible. Potential wants are not adopted simply because the opportunity is available and the items can be afforded, but only if they are the response to a felt need and have a good fit with the existing cultural matrix. Thus, change in want patterns is a function of change in perception rather than a response to increased income. The value system, then, plays the key role in want development and it appears that change in the value system itself in terms of attitudes, motivations and aspirations, is prerequisite for the development of new wants and the modification of old wants, which in turn stimulates further reformulation of the cultural frame-of-reference.

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