Please Define “Necessity”

On Tuesday, PriceGrabber put out a press release about its 2009 Consumer Behavior Report: Economic Trends in Consumer Spending. It paints a fairly pessimistic picture; two out of three consumers surveyed have cut back on spending, and 90% indicated that they plan to continue to control their spending even after the economy improves.

But the item that made me scratch my head was the question that asked consumers to catagorize certain items as necessities or luxuries. Twice as many men than women said that an HDTV is a necessity. The scores were only 20% for men versus 10% for women, so at least it’s a minority . However, I have a hard time coming up with a way to justify an HDTV as a “necessity”. It is also worth noting that men were more inclined to think a given item is a necessity than women, including high-speed Internet connections, a personal computer, an MP3 player, or a dishwasher. (Okay, I can almost see a dishwasher as a “necessity”, but it’s hard to see the others as anything but a luxury, or at least optional.) The one category that more women thought was a necessity than men was a landline phone (69% to 63%).

So the take aways here are that (1) men like shiny, sparkly things more than women when electronics are involved, and (2) our consumer society seems to have a strange definition of what “necessity” means. I have a hard time putting an HDTV on the same footing as food and shelter, but maybe I’m the one who’s out of step here.