Serena F. Hagerty

Assistant Professor of Marketing

University of Virginia, Darden School of Business

In a time of rising inequality—when the “haves” have even more, and everyone else even less—consumption is increasingly viewed through a moral lens. Questions, rife with judgment, are directed toward those at both ends of the income spectrum. Should lower-income consumers be allowed to buy “frivolous” or “unnecessary” products? Should firms offer premium services (e.g., express lanes) to wealthy customers? Even one’s own consumption is subject to moral inspection; is it acceptable to buy from a firm that pays its CEO hundreds of times more than it pays its employees? My research examines these negative social judgments and the moral scrutiny of consumers and firms alike.

Across several projects I investigate the social consequences of economic inequality that determine what is permissible to buy or sell at either end of the wealth distribution. One stream of work examines double standards in socially permissible consumption, demonstrating that lower-income individuals are systematically judged more negatively for the same ‘everyday’ consumption decisions. Another stream of research investigates when and why consumers scrutinize firms for perpetuating inequality among their employees or customers.