Objective: Compulsive buying (uncontrolled urges to buy, with resulting significant adverse consequences) has been estimated to affect from 1.8% to 16% of the adult U.S. population. To the authors' knowledge, no study has used a large general population sample to estimate its prevalence.
Method: The authors conducted a random sample, national household telephone survey in the spring and summer of 2004 and interviewed 2,513 adults. The interviews addressed buying attitudes and behaviors, their consequences, and the respondents' financial and demographic data. The authors used a clinically validated screening instrument, the Compulsive Buying Scale, to classify respondents as either compulsive buyers or not.
Results: The rate of response was 56.3%, which compares favorably with rates in federal national health surveys. The cooperation rate was 97.6%. Respondents included a higher percentage of women and people ages 55 and older than the U.S. adult population. The estimated point prevalence of compulsive buying among respondents was 5.8% (by gender: 6.0% for women, 5.5% for men). The gender-adjusted prevalence rate was 5.8%. Compared with other respondents, compulsive buyers were younger, and a greater proportion reported incomes under 50,000 US dollars. They exhibited more maladaptive responses on most consumer behavior measures and were more than four times less likely to pay off credit card balances in full.
Conclusions: A study using clinically valid interviews is needed to evaluate these results. The emotional and functional toll of compulsive buying and the frequency of comorbid psychiatric disorders suggests that studies of treatments and social interventions are warranted.