Design your life to include more money, health and happiness with less stuff, space and energy.

Design your life to include more money, health and happiness with less stuff, space and energy.

Why Most Americans are Crappy Sharers

Winston Churchill was famously quoted as saying, “You can always count on Americans to do the right thing–after they’ve tried everything else.” While there’s some debate about the exact phrasing and context of this statement, it does have a ring of truth. We have a history of righting nasty wrongs a little later than most. Hopefully the adoption of the so-called sharing economy–something that promises to save a significant amount of natural resources and money–will be another example of such a late bloom. In a report called “The Sharing Economy: Where We Go From Here” advertising giant Leo Barnett dissected the Nielsen Global Survey of Share Communities to find out American perspectives on sharing. What they found was that most Americans are pretty ignorant of what the sharing economy is and would probably not be inclined to participate in it even if they did know.

The Nielsen study went pretty deep into how receptive people around the globe were to sharing and the sharing economy, asking such intimate questions as how likely people were willing to swap pillows with their mothers. What they found was that most global citizens were open to sharing, particularly in many Asian, Middle Eastern and African nations, where sharing is a longstanding practice. But when LB teased apart the 4500 Americans surveyed, they found a population not so keen on participating in the sharing economy. Here are some of the report’s findings:

  • 3 out of 4 Americans said they hadn’t even heard of the terms “sharing economy,” “conscious consumption” or “mesh economy.”
  • Only 1/3 of Americans were familiar with brands like Airbnb and TaskRabbit.
  • 47% said they considered safety and hygiene an issue that would prevent them from sharing.
  • 43% said they have an emotional attachment to owning that would stop them from sharing.
  • 30% said that adapting to others’ schedules, following their rules and letting go of spontaneity would stop them from sharing.
  • 27% said they enjoyed the U.S. consumer culture and the sharing economy, for some, undermined free market capitalism.
  • 52% of those surveyed agreed with the statement, “I think most people would rather own than share, if they can afford to.”

While these findings are far from the death knell for the sharing economy, taken collectively, they present a formidable obstacle for it to take hold in the US.

Some of this resistance to the sharing economy is surely cultural: America is a country founded on the rugged individual, someone who doesn’t need your stuff to get by, thank you very much. But a large part is economic: people don’t avail themselves of sharing technology because it’s still very cheap to own. It’s cheap to order a power drill off of Amazon with one click. It’s cheap to own big homes to store all of your privately owned objects. And until the economics favor sharing people will continue to own their own stuff. For example, Airbnb and Zipcar have managed to gain some economic traction because they save people money over their conventional alternatives, particularly in large cities where hotel rates and car ownership is very expensive.

It’s hard for this author to not be a bit pessimistic about what it’ll take to get Americans to share in a more widespread manner. In my opinion, many people will either need to make a lot less money or the cost of goods must increase dramatically before people start taking sharing seriously.

What do you think? Can people change their behavior–sharing, for example–without dire circumstances forcing them to do so? Let us know in our comments section.

Hat tip to Via Tripple Pundit

Uncle Sam image via Shutterstock

  • jottman

    Segmentation will be key. As a native NYer, am excited about potential among apartment dwellers – and wrote about it HERE:
    Fast forward to a future when big companies realize it’s a more profitable business model and they bring their resources to bear to make sharing accessible, even cool.

  • Listening and talking with seniors makes me feel optimistic. Even they want to live differently than their parents, want more options, more community, more cooperative living. If city codes and zoning regulations were more flexible to allow higher occupancies and more ADUs, there are many seniors who would open their house and invite people of all ages to live with them as they age in place. Many of these seniors are healthy but don’t want to age alone or maintain a large home. Building in the right amount of privacy is still key. A good housemate matching system would help alleviate hesitation to share.

    • Tim Domenico

      You are so right. I had a girlfriend that was living with a senior, offering her company and a once a week trip to the grocery (where she had to go any way). This young lady was saving 90 of her income while working for a defense contractor near Phoenix. He independence was nothing shot of phenomenal.

  • LizinOregon

    I’m not sure why transactions where money changes hands such as airbnb and zip car are considered part of the “sharing economy” and I am not alone in this. Such sloppy labeling could make it difficult to conduct accurate polls. I don’t dispute the idea that Americans like the convenience and freedom of owning their own things which is partly a reflection of the pace of our modern life. I think it also reflects the abysmal lack to customer service.


    We’ll need an etiquette book on this if we’re going to go this route – “sharing” like everything else can get abused if there aren’t clear cut rules to go by…
    There’s a fine line between sharing and taking undue advantage of someone’s generosity.

  • WithheldName

    Great article. This sheds light on a rarely-talked-about (and sad) aspect of American culture.

  • Ani

    It’s kind of depressing really, That we’ve become so unwilling to share and feel the need to have our own all the time. The idea that horrors, one might have to listen to a radio station/CD not of their choosing or adapt their schedule to carpool with others is pretty sad. Likewise, the general standard of everyone owning their own washer/dryer, mower, tiller etc.instead of sharing is pretty absurd. I use my washer and dryer 1/week- and in warm weather just the washer. Pretty crazy that I have my own. Same with internet connections; I live in a townhouse development and I can see all of these locked wifi signals from the neighbors- but we all have and pay for our own service instead of sharing. I’d be happy to share.

    What will it take to change this? Short of a devastating Depression or resource depletion? I fear it will be only the most motivated for change that will engage in this;the type that will prefer using ZipCar or mass transit to single car ownership.

    • Paul

      “Same with internet connections; I live in a townhouse development and I
      can see all of these locked wifi signals from the neighbor”

      Wifi does not equal Internet. A Wifi point is in fact a gateway onto a network (it just so happens that most people then have a gateway out onto the internet from their network). So when you have your Wifi point unsecured with no encryption you are allowing anyone onto your network (as well probably onto your internet connection). This is probably something you do not want to do and I would recommend you don’t :-).

  • We moved from the suburbs to downtown because we wanted to share more things – common areas/indoor swimming pools in highrises, city parks, transportation options. It’s counter intuitive, but life is sooo much easier when you are responsible for less stuff – especially with kids.

  • TrishD

    I am British and live in rural France. Here, as a small ex-pat community, we share things a lot, but it does have its downsides. We used to freely allow people to borrow our trailer, chainsaw, etc, but people kept breaking things and not repairing them, so now we’re much more reluctant to lend out. Our chainsaw was out of commission for years because we couldn’t afford to repair it after a friend broke it, and another friend broke both the tailgate and the rear light on the trailer, and the tailgate no longer fits properly. We’ve tried, too, to have things like painting parties where everyone helps one couple do up a room. But these too have fallen by the wayside, as there’s always someone who doesn’t pull their weight, or who takes without giving back. It’s a great shame, but in the absence of written rules, I’m not sure how well sharing really works and I kind of understand if people don’t want to do it, sadly.