Champagne taste, beer budget: The new poor’s incongruent capital and consumption

Wei Fen Chen, Michelle R. Nelson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


This study examines the shopping preferences of “new poor” consumers who have incongruent capital: lower economic capital and higher noneconomic capital. The new poor exemplify consumers with ambiguous and fragmented identity; thus, they do not fit marketers’ static categorization of consumer segments. In the marketplace, these consumers must compromise between their upper-class taste and lower-class earnings. Taking a Consumer Culture Theory approach to examine consumers’ identity projects in social inequality, we conduct 20 interviews among self-defined new poor consumers in the United States and Taiwan to explore how their dynamic social class consciousness is reflected in everyday consumption. The findings suggest that new poor consumers perform “compromised ideal consumption” in which they strategically interpret and wield their remaining capital to signal social class differences, while employing adaptive and active capitalization acts to access goods that should have been beyond their price range. The findings illuminate how incongruent, devalued capital reproduces social stratification in the context of downward mobility.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)23-42
Number of pages20
JournalJournal of Consumer Culture
Issue number1
StatePublished - Feb 1 2020


  • Social class
  • consumer culture
  • identity
  • new poor
  • social mobility

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Business and International Management
  • Social Psychology
  • Arts and Humanities (miscellaneous)
  • Sociology and Political Science
  • Economics and Econometrics
  • Marketing


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