Saturday, July 16, 2011

Can't you see that rich people drive fancy cars?

I once knew of a guy who was obsessed with the fact that he went to Yale.  Indeed, I was warned that his whole family was obsessed.  Then I met his mom at a party and sure enough, she somehow managed to work the fact that he went to Yale into the very first sentence she spoke to me.  (It may have been a run-on sentence, but even so...)

After you run into enough of these people, it's tempting to conclude that Ivy League graduates are a pretentious lot.  But of course there's a serious selection problem here.  Because, there are plenty of Yalies who do not go around announcing their Yaliness, but you don't know they're Yalies.  Your mental sample of Yalies is disproportionately full of the pretentious ones who go out of their way to declare themselves part of that group.

And so we walk around systematically thinking that Yale graduates on average are more full of themselves than they actually are.  (Fight this).

More generally, for most anything which correlates with higher status, we systematically tend to overestimate the degree to which people are pursuing it for the sake of status alone.  Making more money boosts both absolute welfare and relative status, but we are more likely to notice the people who hold their wealth over us, not the ones who blend in quietly.  On average, the rich are probably less obsessed with their riches than we imagine.

Updated 7/20: The last sentence should really have read, "On average, the rich are probably less obsessed with their richness than we imagine."  (By which I would have meant relative richness, i.e. being in the class of people called rich, rather than the absolute level of one's wealth).  Thanks to a clarifying comment from Tony.

1 comment:

  1. I love reading your blog. It is really true about poor. average and rich. They do have a big difference.

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