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, 106 (20), 8146-50

How Adoption Speed Affects the Abandonment of Cultural Tastes

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How Adoption Speed Affects the Abandonment of Cultural Tastes

Jonah Berger et al. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A.

Abstract

Products, styles, and social movements often catch on and become popular, but little is known about why such identity-relevant cultural tastes and practices die out. We demonstrate that the velocity of adoption may affect abandonment: Analysis of over 100 years of data on first-name adoption in both France and the United States illustrates that cultural tastes that have been adopted quickly die faster (i.e., are less likely to persist). Mirroring this aggregate pattern, at the individual level, expecting parents are more hesitant to adopt names that recently experienced sharper increases in adoption. Further analysis indicate that these effects are driven by concerns about symbolic value: Fads are perceived negatively, so people avoid identity-relevant items with sharply increasing popularity because they believe that they will be short lived. Ancillary analyses also indicate that, in contrast to conventional wisdom, identity-relevant cultural products that are adopted quickly tend to be less successful overall (i.e., reduced cumulative adoption). These results suggest a potential alternate way to explain diffusion patterns that are traditionally seen as driven by saturation of a pool of potential adopters. They also shed light on one factor that may lead cultural tastes to die out.

Conflict of interest statement

The authors declare no conflict of interest.

Figures

Fig. 1.
Fig. 1.
A few trajectories of first-name popularity (in the U.S.). Most names show a period of almost consistent increase in popularity, followed by a decline that leads to abandonment, but names differ in how quickly their popularity rises and declines.
Fig. 2.
Fig. 2.
Hazard ratios and 95% confidence intervals from hazard rate model estimation. The regression equation is: ri(y) = exp(γXi,y−1), where ri(y) refers to the instantaneous death rate of name i in year y, Xi,y−1 is a vector of time-varying covariates, and γ is the vector of estimated coefficients. For each name i and each year y, the past peak in popularity is defined as the past year Yi,y < y at which the contribution of i to all births of the same sex, Fi,y, was maximal over all past years. The adoption velocity is defined as the rate of change in adoption in the 5 years before Yi,y: αi,y = (Fi,Yi,y−5/Fi,Yi,y)1/5 − 1, where Fi,Yi,y is the contribution of name i to all births of the same sex at the past peak in popularity. The mean of the adoption velocity is 19.5%, and the standard deviation is 0.17. The age of a name is defined as the average number of years elapsed between births with name i and the focal year, computed over all past births with name i. The cumulative popularity is the contribution of a name to all births that occurred since it entered our dataset. Popularity and cumulative popularity are normalized for the estimations. The effect of a covariate is significant if the corresponding 95% confidence interval bar does not intersect with 1.0.
Fig. 3.
Fig. 3.
Scatter plot and line of best fit (by OLS) of the logarithm of the cumulative number of adopters until abandonment and the logarithm of adoption velocity before peak. First names with high adoption velocity tend to have fewer adopters overall.

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