3/14/2012 3:34 PM ET|
Why are rich people such jerks?
More money can mean more character flaws, according to research indicating that wealthy people are more likely to lack ethics, generosity and compassion.
My husband and I were waiting for a dinner reservation on the front porch of a Colonial Williamsburg restaurant when another guest, after finding out where we were from, launched into a diatribe about how awful California and Californians were.
The woman, who was from Spokane, Wash., went on and on about her dislike. My husband, a fourth-generation Californian, was genuinely baffled by her vehemence. I grew up in Washington state but had encountered this before. So, I asked in seeming innocence, where in California did you visit? The answer: Anaheim. She was basing her opinion of 37 million people and the nation's third-largest state on a single visit to a theme park.
In much the same way, many of us have opinions about the very rich, and the very poor, even though we may have personally encountered few of either. We may form our views mostly based on what our parents told us, what we see in the news media and the opinions of people we like or admire.
Research sometimes upholds our stereotypes and sometimes contradicts them:
- If you believe that the poor are lazy, for example, you might be surprised by Census Bureau statistics showing that the majority of people under the poverty line are too young, too old or too disabled to work.
- If you believe the poor are less educated, though, research seems to back you up. Households where the adults have lower levels of education tend to be in lower income brackets, and more likely to move down economically, than households where adults have higher levels of education, Census Bureau statistics show.
All of which brings me to the growing body of research that shows the rich behaving badly. Those who study the psychology of wealth have found the rich seem more likely to be unethical, ungenerous and uncompassionate than people lower on the socio-economic scale.
One study that got a lot of attention recently was the "luxury car" research, which found that people who drive fancy cars are far less likely to wait their turns at four-way intersections and far more likely to cut off pedestrians who have the right of way.
Luxury cars may not be a perfect proxy for wealth: Plenty of people lease vehicles they can't afford, and some millionaire-next-door types take pride in driving beaters. But the researchers from the University of California, Berkeley, and the University of Toronto conducted six other studies studying wealth and ethics, with similar results: The wealthier the person, the more likely he or she was to engage in unethical behavior. (One study gauged the propensity to cheat based on the self-reported social class, another the likelihood of taking candy meant for children.)
The researchers knew better than to draw the conclusions that all rich people are corrupt and that all poor people are saints, noting high levels of violent crime in poor areas as well as "notable cases of ethical action among upper-class individuals that greatly benefited the greater good."
"Examples include whistle-blowing by Cynthia Cooper and Sherron Watkins, former vice presidents at WorldCom and Enron, respectively, and the significant philanthropy displayed by such individuals as Bill Gates and Warren Buffett," the researchers wrote. "These observations suggest that the association between social class and unethicality is neither categorical nor essential, and point to important boundary conditions to our findings that should be examined in future investigations."
The research, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, a professional journal, is just the latest in a series of studies demonstrating that wealthier people may not be as nice as others:
- A 2006 study by University of Minnesota researchers, "The Psychological Consequences of Money," found that being reminded of money makes people less likely to ask for help or provide help to others.
- People in elevated social positions were less likely to feel compassion or distress over another person's suffering, according to a 2008 study, led by a University of Amsterdam professor, called "Power, Distress, and Compassion: Turning a Blind Eye to the Suffering of Others." A study last year by University of California researchers called "Social Class as Culture" came to similar conclusions: that people of lower social classes tended to be more empathetic and more compassionate. The less income and education people had, the researchers said, the more likely they were to be attuned to others.
- The UC researchers found in an earlier study, "Social Class, Sense of Control and Social Explanation," that people of lower economic and social status felt less in control of their lives than people who were better off. The former were more likely to blame circumstances for events than richer people, who were more likely to explain success as the result of individual effort and failure as the result of individual faults.
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I will not put any money in a rich mans hands to secure my future.
Rich jerks? You can start with Donald Trump--the birther chump. Then, add 2-Faced Mittens Romney. Then, thrice-married Newtie Tootie and quad-married Pills Limbaugh into this undignified mix of arrogant, jerky, neo-nuts.
And...I ain't kiddin', either!
So a majority is 51% what about the other 21.3 million under the "poverty line"? LAZY
Free stuff is too hard to give up.
Stereotypes won't die. Wife and I both worked through college and are in the top 10%, we are very fortunate. We have friends and family that are 1%. I don't think any are "jerks". Following the stereotype roles, been to France, outside Paris everyone is great. The people in Paris are just tired of the fu&king guidos from NJ on cheap airline tickets.
If you have money, you can do anything you want. That's the hard reality of life...
Hey stokjoc. The apostle Paul said, "For even when we were with you, we gave you this rule: "If a man will not work, he shall not eat."
Think that would fly in today's entitlement society?
They're not. Why are poor people such jerks?
I see "poor" people everyday expecting something for nothing.. i.e. Occupy Wallstreet. At least the rich make a contribution. Maybe they're sick of being told they owe someone who does nothing.
Yeah. I'd be a jerk too.
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