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.
VIDEO ON MSN MONEY
*Create Social Security
*Increase corporate taxes
*Enact Civil Rights Act
*Increase minimum wage
Ah yes, those silly, silly "elitists" helping the downtrodden. what a bunch of snobs
Wow, Marxist Liberal Socialist Democrats. You didn't forget Communist, Fascist did you? And Elitist to boot, as in thinking people have a better chance of advancing theimselves if they have a college education? Are you Santorum?
Every time I read or hear crap like that I just have to laugh, because it reminds me of someone totally uneducated and inbred.
well I live in Spokane. I wish to apologize for one of our local hillbillies who roamed far away from the little hick town they love.
You are so lucky. You only had to listen to her small minded pea brain rattling away for perhaps 10-15 minutes.
I live next door to them.
I don't understand why it always becomes Reps vs. Dems.Its the Koch's vs. Soros. Meanwhile while we play this silly game of pointing fingers at each other they both buy off Congress and become wealthier. I also don't understand why those who work hard and are rich are now looked upon as doing something wrong. Yes there are those who use money to buy influence. But hard working people have made this country wonderful and given much to charity. Rude people are rude people, rich or poor.
Where did you see that Obama had anything to do with the writing of this article? Or do you just naturally assume? If you do, I don't know what kind of development you wrapped yourself around, but I'd go back for a few more semesters.
Oh, by the way, I'm one of those people you like to call a Liberal, because of our code of ethics. But guess what. I'm beyond your magic milestone, and I actually don't hate myself. Why? Because I'm not one of those jerks this article is written about. Buutttttt, if you want to join them..........
And this makes them bad?? What arrogance If you can't hire someone....BAD!!! Seriously?? LOL
That is your best...Never met a conservative who couldn't whine and complain...
That's cool, I know what it's like when you can't think for yourself although I was never a coservative jerk...
Now turn to the Republican handbook or google and respond with something witty or a really good insult...
Copyright © 2013 Microsoft. All rights reserved.
Quotes are real-time for NASDAQ, NYSE and AMEX. See delay times for other exchanges.
Fundamental company data and historical chart data provided by Thomson Reuters (click for restrictions). Real-time quotes provided by BATS Exchange. Real-time index quotes and delayed quotes supplied by Interactive Data Real-Time Services. Fund summary, fund performance and dividend data provided by Morningstar Inc. Analyst recommendations provided by Zacks Investment Research. StockScouter data provided by Verus Analytics. IPO data provided by Hoover's Inc. Index membership data provided by SIX Financial Information.
RECENT ARTICLES ON FAMILY & MONEY
Hurricane season is coming. But storms can happen at any time. Here are six smart things to do to get your home ready before the storm hits.