The Desire for Social Status and Economic Conservatism among Affluent Americans


Adam Thal

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Thal, A. (2020). The Desire for Social Status and Economic Conservatism among Affluent Americans. American Political Science Review, 114(2): 426-442. DOI:10.1017/S0003055419000893.
Affluent Americans have disproportionate influence over policymaking and often use their power to advance conservative economic policies that increase inequality. I show that this behavior is partially driven by affluent Americans’ desire for social status. First, I use a new survey scale to show that affluent Americans’ desire for social status strongly predicts their level of economic conservatism. Second, I test my theory experimentally in the context of social media. On sites like Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter, affluent Americans compete for social status by sharing curated versions of their lives that highlight their upper-class lifestyle. When I randomly assign affluent Americans to experience this status competition, it causes them to become more economically conservative. The results help us understand the social and psychological origins of economic conservatism among affluent Americans, and provide the first evidence that social media encourages political behaviors that are conducive to inequality.
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