Veblen Goods

Veblen goods are rare high-end items that serve as a status symbol.

Osman Ahmed

Reviewed by

Osman Ahmed

Expertise: Investment Banking | Private Equity


September 15, 2022

Veblen goods are rare high-end items that serve as a status symbol. Because of its exclusivity and appeal as a status symbol, its demand increases as the price rises. As a result, the demand curve is upward-sloping, as opposed to the conventional downward-sloping curve.

Veblen good

In contrast to a Giffen good, an inferior product with no readily available substitutes, a Veblen good is often a high-quality, valued commodity.

Unlike a Giffen good, where higher demand is directly linked to the price increase, the increase in demand for a Veblen good reflects consumer tastes and preferences. The concept is named after Thorstein Veblen, an American economist best remembered for coining the phrase "conspicuous spending."

Unlike Giffen products, which are elusive and difficult to identify, Veblen goods are rather widespread. These are expensive objects promoted as "exclusive" or communicate the image of affluence, such as designer jewelry, pricey watches, yachts, and luxury cars.


These goods are primarily targeted at the wealthy and usually have a strong brand identity synonymous with luxury. 

These products are significantly more likely to be sold in premium boutiques than in traditional department shops. This is essentially a luxury item that the majority of the population will not or cannot purchase due to the high price tag.

Because of their exclusivity, these commodities defy the basic law of demand, which stipulates that quantity demanded has an inverse relationship with price. 

Increases in the price of desirable and expensive goods may boost their attractiveness to the status-conscious because it is now further out of reach for the common consumer.

Lowering the price of such a product, on the other hand, may lessen its exclusivity, causing it to be shunned by status-conscious purchasers while remaining too expensive for the general market. 

As a result, cutting prices would diminish rather than raise overall demand.

While no exact price point distinguishes a Veblen good from a standard product, it is safe to conclude that a it is generally priced exponentially higher than a standard product in the same category.

Reasons for the Veblen Effect

According to studies, purchasing a Veblen item makes people happier and provides them more utility than a good of equal quality with a lower price tag.

This is because the good makes the person feel more exclusive and important. After all, they are getting something of high quality that is out of reach for others. Therefore, many people agree that the extra cost is justified.

When a product is expensive, people often assume it is of higher quality, which is not always the case. Many companies source or manufacture their items in the same locations or factories. However, some are marketed at a premium due to marketing and brand identity.


Higher prices are automatically associated with higher quality by consumers. If the price of the same good is raised, customers may perceive it to be of higher quality and be willing to pay the higher price.

Similarly, an affluent buyer is willing to pay more for a product that is considered difficult to obtain. This is a very typical occurrence in the art world. For example, paintings by deceased artists, such as Picasso or Monet, sell for millions of dollars because there are so few of them. 

The price, in this case, reflects the fact that the artist's works are not widely available, rather than the quality of the art.

  • Quality perception

In his study of conspicuous consumerism, economist Thorstein Veblen observed that a higher price was frequently related to the perception of higher quality for some luxury items and services. As a result, a price increase was interpreted as evidence of the producer's improved quality.


For example, when the price of a designer handbag grows, so does the demand for it. Consumers interpret the price increase as proof that the luxury handbag manufacturer has increased the handbag's quality.

  • Positional goods

Positional commodities are frequently Veblen products. The demand for a positional good is determined by the distribution of that good in society. 

Veblen goods frequently exhibit a negative positional effect, which means that their quantity requested rises as the dispersion of the good decreases. 

This effect happens because a consumer's utility from owning such an item stems solely from the fact that few other consumers own it.


For example, a consumer's utility from owning a diamond-encrusted handbag may be mostly derived from the fact that few other individuals in society can buy such an item. As a result, the diamond-encrusted purse serves as a positional good for this customer.

Who coined the term veblen goods?

In his 1899 book "The Theory of the Leisure Class," Thorstein Veblen, an economist, and sociologist coined the term "conspicuous consumption." Due to the high real cost of making Veblen goods, Veblen viewed this conspicuous consumption as intrinsically wasteful. 

If lower-cost methods of signaling social status could be used, the resources used to make Veblen products may be put to better use producing more urgently needed goods and services.

Veblen condemned the wealthy's altruistic deeds and ostentatious leisure (non-work time devoted to consuming hobbies), the latter of which is the subject of his book. The anti-consumerism movement relies heavily on Veblen's theories.


The interaction of economics, society, and culture attracted Veblen. He investigated the social structure and concluded that people bought items to flaunt their financial status and accomplishments to others.

The wealthy's consumption habits were criticized by Veblen, who questioned their values. He coined the terms "conspicuous waste" and "pecuniary emulation" (the act of seeking to match or surpass someone else's financial status). 

Veblen, a Swedish economist who lived from 1857 to 1929, also founded the Institutional Economics School.

In addition to his criticism of consumer culture, he viewed profit-driven manufacturing as wasteful in encouraging conspicuous consumption and reducing productive output to raise prices and profits. 

He argued that firms limiting production to increase profits contributed to issues such as unemployment. The establishment of American institutional economics was his other key contribution. 

He rejected what he viewed as conventional economics' static view of human action and market equilibrium. Instead, Veblen felt that economic conduct was socially controlled and dependent on the history of social institutions. 

Human biological inclinations and psychological dispositions shape these social institutions.

What Is a Giffen Good?

Giffen good is a non-luxury, low-cost item that defies standard economic and consumer demand assumptions. When the price of a Giffen commodity rises, demand rises, and when it falls, demand falls.

This produces an upward-sloping demand curve in econometrics, in contrast to the fundamental rules of demand, which produce a downward-sloping demand curve.

Giffen good

The phrase "Giffen products" was coined in the late 1800s and is named after Sir Robert Giffen, a well-known Scottish economist, statistician, and journalist. Giffen goods are based on a notion that focuses on low-cost, non-luxury products with few close replacements.

Giffen products are comparable to Veblen goods, which challenge conventional economic and consumer demand theory while focusing on luxury goods.

Bread, rice, and wheat are a few examples of Giffen products. These are typical needs with few close alternatives available at comparable prices.

The income effect might be significant in the case of Giffen goods, while the substitution effect is equally significant. The demand curve for Giffen items is upward sloping, indicating more demand at higher prices. 

Because there are few substitutes for Giffen items, buyers will continue to buy them even if the price rises. Giffen commodities are frequently necessary items, incorporating both the income and higher price replacement effects. 

Consumers are prepared to spend more for Giffen goods since they are essential, but this limits discretionary cash, making slightly higher options much more out of reach. As a result, customers purchase even more Giffen products.

In general, both the income and substitution effects are at work to produce unusual supply and demand outcomes.

Income Effect vs. Substitution Effect

The income effect is concerned with how changes in relative income and prices impact consumption. In contrast, the substitution effect is concerned with how changes in relative income and prices affect consumption.

  • Income Effect

The income effect refers to the shift in consumer expenditure resulting from a shift in income. If consumers' income rises, they are more inclined to increase spending. They may also spend less if their income decreases.

This influence has no bearing on the types of things people purchase. Depending on their circumstances and tastes, they may choose to buy more expensive things in smaller amounts or less expensive goods in larger quantities.


The impact of income might be direct or indirect. The income effect is defined as when a customer chooses to change their spending habits due to a change in income. If a consumer's income has fallen, they may decide to spend less on clothing.

The income effect becomes indirect when a consumer is compelled to make purchasing decisions based on factors other than their income. Food prices, for example, may rise, leaving consumers with less money to spend on other products. 

This may drive them to reduce their out-of-home dining, resulting in a net income effect.

A customer's marginal propensity to consume shows how they will change spending in response to a change in their income. It's a concept based on the balance of a consumer's spending and saving behaviors.

Keynesian economics, a wider macroeconomic theory, includes the marginal propensity to consume. This hypothesis compares production, individual income, and the tendency to spend more of it.

Substitution Effect

The substitution effect happens when a consumer replaces one product with another due to a change in comparable costs and finances. This could signal that higher-priced items are replaced with lower- or moderate-priced alternatives.

Coin in hand

For example, a good return on investment or other monetary incentives may induce a customer to upgrade from an older model of a costly item to a newer one.

When earnings fall, the opposite is true. Substitution in favor of lower-cost items usually has a negative impact on merchants because it results in decreased earnings. It could also suggest that the consumer has fewer options.

This effect is normally positive for retailers who sell lower-cost items.

While the substitution effect shifts consumption patterns in favor of the less costly option, even a small price drop can make a more expensive product more appealing to customers.

If the cost of private college tuition is higher than the cost of public college tuition, for example, purchasers will naturally prefer public universities. On the other hand, a small drop in private tuition fees might be enough to attract more children to enroll in private schools.

Key Takeaways

  • A Veblen good is one for which demand rises in tandem with a price.

  • These items are often high-end, well-made, and one-of-a-kind items that function as status symbols.

  • Affluent customers prioritizing product utility are more likely to seek out Veblen products.

  • Designer jewelry, yachts, and luxury cars are examples of Veblen items.

  • In contrast to a conventional demand curve, which is downward sloping, the demand curve for a Veblen good is upward sloping.

  • When the price of a Veblen item increases, demand increases; when the price decreases, demand decreases.

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Researched and authored by Rhea Rose Kappan | LinkedIn

Reviewed and edited by James Fazeli-Sinaki | LinkedIn

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