Economic downturns, pandemics, international tensions and climate change concerns are challenging people’s sense of stability, according to a new study from Bayes Business School in London.

Traditionally, consumers built security through long-term goals like families, stable careers and property ownership. However, the four-year research shows growing uncertainty is leading some to reject such aspirations which require resources and commitments that could become vulnerabilities in turbulent times inhibiting flexibility.

Published in the Journal of Consumer Research, the paper is the first to capture this paradoxical shift in what feels secure versus risky in lifestyle choices and spending behaviours. As threats impact daily lives, many feel uneasy about the future prompting rethinking daily routines.

Searching for new sources of stability

The study finds consumers increasingly adopt “liquid” approaches prioritising detachment and choice. The researchers theorise the concept of “liquid consumer security” – a new form of felt security stemming from avoiding ownership and its risks and duties.

Interviews and online research examined “digital nomadism” – people working remotely living flexibly moving between cheaper overseas locations. Enabled by technology and remote work popularity, digital nomads own few possessions maximising incomes living well for less.

Key findings:

  • Marriage, families and homeownership traditionally ensuring security are now viewed risky not secure sources.
  • To manage economic uncertainty, lifestyles shift from “solid” logics of ownership and planning to present-focused flexibility relinquishing possessions and commitments.
  • Access based markets support low daily costs through platforms like house-sitting worldwide while work diversification online ensures flexibility and control over incomes.
  • These offerings circumvent solid living pillars and let lifestyles adapt to socioeconomic conditions legitimising this way of being.

Dr Aleksandrina Atanasova of Bayes Business School said growing uncertainty affects middle classes sheltered from systemic risks for the first time. However, not all will become nomadic – “liquid consumer security” captures shifting risk-security views changing consumption behaviours across groups envisioning “the good life”. Markets respond to subscription services booming as flexibility increasingly sought.

Read more here.