A new report suggests that the wealthy are showing off their affluence in inconspicuous ways including by breastfeeding, sending their children to private schools and sending them off with organic foods packed neatly in their fancy lunchboxes.
According to an article in BBC.com, the elite class is “eschewing an overt materialism” and instead is “investing significantly more in education, retirement and health – all of which are immaterial, yet cost many times more than any handbag a middle-income consumer might buy.”
Author Elizabeth Currid-Halkett points out that the top 1% of income earners have increased their spending on education 3.5 times since 1996 while middle-income spending on education has remained flat over the same time period.
Another interesting factoid Currid-Halkett suggests that the affluent signal their wealth is through the way they feed their newborns.
“While time in Los Angeles, San Francisco and New York City might make one think that every American mother breastfeeds her child for a year, national statistics report that only 27% of mothers fulfill this American Academy of Pediatrics goal (in Alabama, that figure hovers at 11%),” she writes.
Beyond child-rearing, it’s suggested that the wealthy also set themselves apart from middle class by knowing what small talk to engage in at the local farmer’s market, heck, by shopping at a farmer’s market in the first placy, and knowing which New Yorker articles to reference.
We’re not sure this is necessarily new as I’ve noted in my Amazon.com book, “How to Look Like Old Money”, you can always tell who is cultured by their ability to engage in intellectual conversations and be versed in a variety of politics to pop culture topics. But I suppose Currid-Halkett is suggesting that which particular “New Yorker articles to reference” matters even more.
But all of this subtle hints are not for nothing.
These examples reveal to the world that one possesses a certain level of cultural capital, which in turn gives up access into social networks that, in turn, help to pave the way to elite jobs, key social and professional contacts, and private schools.
In short, inconspicuous consumption confers social mobility.
“More profoundly, investment in education, healthcare and retirement has a notable impact on consumers’ quality of life, and also on the future life chances of the next generation,” the piece continues. “Today’s inconspicuous consumption is a far more pernicious form of status spending than the conspicuous consumption of [economist Thorstein ] Veblen’s time.”
To me, this reads like sounds like social climbing just got harder. So if you’re part of that upward mobility set who look to the aspirational class for cues, better take note and adjust!