You talkin’ to me?

Travis Bickle puts the big question

The drive for status is a powerful force that shouldn’t be ignored by urban policy-makers, not least those with an interest in cities. It explains much about the way people behave in urban areas, like why they might live in a McMansion or drive a Prius (I’ve written about status a number of times before – e.g. here, here, here and here).

Status can also throw light on other issues, like why some people brawl with complete strangers and why some couples split up. George Mason University academic, Robin Hanson, offers an interesting illustration of the connection between status and conflict in this piece, Status drives poverty?

The sometimes controversial economist starts by citing a passage from a new book, Promises I can keep: why poor women put motherhood before marriage, explaining why low income urban single mothers break up with their partners.

The authors, Kathryn Edin and Maria Kefalas, point to conflicts between partners over money. Fights and antagonism don’t erupt because the man doesn’t earn as much as someone with higher skills or because he can’t find a job. Rather:

Money usually becomes an issue because he seems unwilling to keep at a job for any length of time, usually because of issues related to respect. Some of the jobs he can get don’t pay enough to give him the self-respect he feels he needs, and others require him to get along with unpleasant customers and coworkers, and to maintain a submissive attitude toward the boss.

They say money is an important factor in why co-habiting couples break up, but it’s not the only one – so is status.

This brief comment by Professor Hanson makes a wider but insightful point:

I suspect much of what makes some cultures more successful than others is how they help folks to avoid seeing unpleasant interactions as direct challenges to their status.

Something that might be merely annoying or vexing in one culture can be profoundly challenging in another, demanding confrontation and even retribution. One of the commenters expands further on this idea with an example. He asks you to imagine you and your staff are in a meeting with another manager and his team. During the meeting the other manager says things that challenge your status.

In the United States after the meeting your group members might say. “Boy, that guy was a jerk.” The issue becomes the other manager’s problem. Read the rest of this entry »


What makes people happier – money or status?

A new study by researchers at the University of Warwick finds that money only makes people happier if it improves their social rank.

A well known example of this effect was documented by economist Robert H Frank. He asked people if they would prefer to live in a 4,000 ft2 house where all the neighbouring houses were 6,000 ft2, or in a 3,000 ft2 house where all the neighbours lived in houses that were 2,000 ft2. A majority of respondents chose the 3,000 ft2 house – smaller in absolute terms than the first option but larger in relative terms.

Where being brilliantly avaricious counts most? (Cut paper)

This is not a new insight but I think it is very important that planners and architects appreciate it – in fact it is very important for anyone who has clients or who is involved in policy development and implementation. Status matters. The trick is to direct it in ways that are as environmentally, economically and socially benign as possible. Bicycles rather than BMWs!

The researchers were seeking to explain why people in rich nations have not become any happier on average over the last 40 years even though economic growth has led to substantial increases in average incomes.

Lead researcher on the paper, Chris Boyce from the University of Warwick’s Department of Psychology said:

“Our study found that the ranked position of an individual’s income best predicted general life satisfaction, while the actual amount of income and the average income of others appear to have no significant effect. Earning a million pounds a year appears to be not enough to make you happy if you know your friends all earn 2 million a year”

The study, entitled “Money and Happiness: Rank of Income, Not Income, Affects Life Satisfaction”, will be published in the journal Psychological Science. The researchers looked at data on earnings and life satisfaction from seven years of the British Household Panel Survey (BHPS), which is a representative longitudinal sample of British households. Read the rest of this entry »