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Becoming a Winner But Staying the Same: Identities and Consumption of Lottery Winners


  • Bengt Larsson

    1. Department of Sociology, University of Gothenburg
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    • The author is an Associate Professor at the Department of Sociology, University of Gothenburg, Box 720 SE 405 30 Göteborg, Sweden; e-mail: His research interests are in the field of economic sociology: auditing, trust, economic crime, consumption and overindebtedness, and union cooperation in Europe. The author thanks Bengt Furåker, Tomas Berglund, Anna Hedenus, Stefan Schedin, Patrik Aspers, Jukka Gronow, Oskar Engdahl, Christel Backman, Micael Björk, Adel Daoud, and the two anonymous reviewers for helpful comments on preceding drafts. The research on which this article is based was funded by the Swedish Council for Working Life and Social Research.


This article discusses how large lottery winnings are experienced and used by the winners. The study draws on a survey of 420 Swedish winners, which is analyzed against the background of previous research from the USA and Europe. The analyses show that winners are cautious about realizing any dreams of becoming someone else somewhere else. This result contradicts theories suggesting that identities are being liquefied by the commercially driven consumer culture in affluent Western societies. In contrast, the article concludes that winners generally try to stay much the same, but on a somewhat higher level of consumption. The critical situation that large winnings produce is generally met by an attempt to hold on to one's identity and social relations. In addition, the article shows that lump sum winners tend to save and invest large parts of their winnings, compared with winners of monthly installments who are more likely to spend on leisure and consumption. These results indicate that “wild” lump sums make winners “tame” their winnings more firmly, whereas “domesticated” monthly instalments can be spent more thoughtlessly without changing identity or becoming an unfortunate winner.