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Has the durability of white goods changed between 1998 and 2017? In what direction and why?

Strandbakken, Pål

The author performed a nationwide representative survey of the durability of freezers, refrigerators, TV sets and stereos in Norway in 1998, as part of his doctoral thesis. In 2017, the Norwegian Consumer Council financed a replication of the survey for the cold appliances, enabling us to conclude on the question of whether product durability goes up or down. We also consider survey material on the age of households’ washing machines, dishwashers and tumble driers, why these products are replaced, repair practices etc., but the comparison between 98 and 17 is restricted to refrigerators and freezers. Between 1998 and 2017 the number of years a household uses the refrigerator what we here define as the lifespan of the product, has decreased by one and a half year on average. Likewise, in the same period, the lifespan of freezers has also decreased by a bit more than one and a half year. It seems as if the reason for this decrease is that households today, more often than 20 years ago, replace cold appliances that are not malfunctioning. If this is correct, the importance of technical quality/mechanical durability is reduced, while psychological obsolescence and ‘new consumer needs’ has gained importance. However, qualitative (technical) obsolescence remains the main reason for replacement of cold appliances, even if we observe an unwanted change. For washing machines, where we do not have comparable data over time, it seems as if technical quality/durability is more important than for cold appliances. The same tendency, but somewhat weaker, is observed for dishwashers. Generally, the consumption of washing machines, dishwashers and tumble dryers is different from the consumption of refrigerators and freezers, as these products more often get repaired. This probably indicates that washing machines etc. to a larger degree are seen as functional objects and less as aesthetical objects.
Published in: PLATE – Product lifetimes and the environment : 3rd PLATE Conference, September 18–20, 2019 Berlin, Germany, Universitätsverlag der TU Berlin
Published by ISBN 978-3-7983-3125-9