‘Luxury beliefs’ are the latest status symbol for rich Americans

‘Luxury beliefs’ are the latest status symbol for rich Americans, by Rob Henderson.

A former classmate from Yale recently told me “monogamy is kind of outdated” and not good for society. So I asked her what her background is and if she planned to marry.

She said she comes from an affluent family and works at a well-known technology company. Yes, she personally intends to have a monogamous marriage — but quickly added that marriage shouldn’t have to be for everyone.

She was raised by a traditional family. She planned on having a traditional family. But she maintained that traditional families are old-fashioned and society should “evolve” beyond them.

What could explain this?

In the past, upper-class Americans used to display their social status with luxury goods. Today, they do it with luxury beliefs.

People care a lot about social status. In fact, research indicates that respect and admiration from our peers are even more important than money for our sense of well-being.

We feel pressure to display our status in new ways. This is why fashionable clothing always changes. But as trendy clothes and other products become more accessible and affordable, there is increasingly less status attached to luxury goods.

The upper classes have found a clever solution to this problem: luxury beliefs. These are ideas and opinions that confer status on the rich at very little cost, while taking a toll on the lower class.

Marriage is increasingly an upper class institution. Do as we do, not as we say.

One example of luxury belief is that all family structures are equal. This is not true. Evidence is clear that families with two married parents are the most beneficial for young children. …

Relaxed attitudes about marriage trickle down to the working class and the poor. In the 1960s, marriage rates between upper-class and lower-class Americans were nearly identical. But during this time, affluent Americans loosened social norms, expressing skepticism about marriage and monogamy.

This luxury belief contributed to the erosion of the family. Today, the marriage rates of affluent Americans are nearly the same as they were in the 1960s. But working-class people are far less likely to get married. Furthermore, out-of-wedlock birthrates are more than 10 times higher than they were in 1960, mostly among the poor and working class. Affluent people seldom have kids out of wedlock but are more likely than others to express the luxury belief that doing so is of no consequence.