The purchasing of an expensive Swiss watch is seen by those that can’t afford them as an exercise in willy-waggling vanity.
But research published by the Journal of Bioeconomics says that the benefit of displaying an exquisite IWC or Cartier on your wrist stretches far beyond the bank accounts of Geneva-based watch brands.
Jason Collins from the University of Western Australia suggests that conspicuous consumption is a modern day phenomenon that serves a very similar purpose to a peacock’s tail, which is to signal to females (peahens) that they are perfect breeding partners.
“Why do these watches exist?” asks Mr Collins. “Because there is somebody with a great big bucket of money looking for a way to signal that he has it,” he adds in an article deemed of sufficient importance to find its way onto page 3 of Thursday’s The Times.
His comparison to the peacock’s tail goes thus: “The peacock’s tail works as a wonderful signal of underlying quality and the reason why it works is it demonstrates the quality of the resources the peacock has compared with those who don’t have such resources and can’t engage in such wasteful behaviour as producing a big tail.”
Growing such a spectacular tail is so wasteful, Mr Collins suggests, that it tricks peahens into assuming the peacock has the sort of limitless depths of resources that it will make a perfect partner for producing strong offspring.
Mr Collins took this assumption, wafted a little mathematics and economic theory in its vicinity, and concluded that women develop a preference for men who conspicuously consume, and that this drives economic growth.
“Why do men get up in the morning and go to work?” Mr Collins questions. “The basic needs for survival require little effort, so what are they trying to acquire these resources for? They need resources to attract females, and our argument is that this is a strong driver of growth.”