Decoding The Demonstration Effect

Source: The Hitavada      Date: 08 Aug 2017 12:14:07


By dr deepali naidu,

It was mid May, in torrid afternoon, the Reddy family, the Sharmas and the Tiwaris in the Janata Housing Society were ecstatic over their children’s accomplishment. Their wards had successfully graduated Engineering. While the Mishra family was celebrating their daughter’s success on completing her degree course in Medicine.

Now, these families not only have their habitat in common but also they also share common economic status. They all belong to the 24 million adults of the Indian population – the mammoth Middle Class Indian Families. For the middle class Indian parents, society plays an important role. It is always placed at par with the family and so called family pride. In Indian urban societies, (specially down South), it is apparently vivid that every 5th middle class household has aspirants for Engineering, Medical courses or to study abroad. And not to be surprised we really find Engineers and Doctors graduating every year in large numbers and many GRE, TOEFL, ILTS pass outs.

This trend has accelerated in the past three decades. Technically, there may be reasons like globalisation- entry of the MNCs in the Indian Industry creating demand for skilled labour or privatisation – mushrooming of private colleges creating supply for Higher Technical Institutions….. . But the major reason lies submerged and that is the Demonstration dffect among the parents.

Demonstration effect or it is also called as Duesenberry Effect is the observation of actions of other individuals and their consequences which affects the behavior of the individual. In simple words, a person may expect to possess those things which the others have.

Since ages, Indian families consider that education supplemented by conventional academic degrees provide highly paid jobs. So if a boy or a girl graduates in medicine or engineering or is a CA, CS….. is a matter of pride for the family and if this family happens to reside in a housing society others follow the trail, specially the parents and in least case the children. If Mr Sharma’s daughter graduated in engineering, then his neighbours, Mr. & Mrs. Gupta would be worried about their ward’s future who still is studying in lower secondary school.

They tend to compare their son’s capabilities with that of Sharma’s ward and push their child in all possible ways to pursue Engineering. While the Agrawal family’s pride, is their daughter CA Riddhi, this pursuit is followed by the Jangids who would try their level best to motivate their daughter to go for either CA (Charted Accountant) or CS (Company Secretary) course.

And this is the demonstration effect. Just because others’ wards are pursuing some conventional course, it becomes necessary for the other few to follow them irrespective of one’s income or economic status.

A middle class Indian parent would be ready to spend the entire lifetime saving or take a huge amount of loan for the sake of child’s higher education. Reasons behind this are the concern of the parents towards their children’s future, the inherent parent insecurity or the ignorance or the mistrust in unconventional courses.

Now there is a Ratchet effect too. In Ratchet Effect, if an individual is accustomed to certain things of high value (economic), then he/she cannot reduce the expenditure on the consumption of such high valued things. This is analogous to the parent who is used to good academic results of the elder child and mentally refuses to accept the average or below average academic results of the younger one. Among the siblings, if any one of them excels in studies, it becomes artificially natural for the other one to be academically meritorious. This is the expectation by default from the parents that all their children (irrespective of the number) must be equally good in academics. So, either the parents have to understand the sublime demonstration effect in their behaviour or the wards irrespective of their capabilities have to follow the suit.

(The author is Assistant Professor,
City Premier College, Nagpur)