A recent study published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 1 offers fresh perspectives on how people experience their socioeconomic status (SES). The study, led by Kristin Laurin and her colleagues, investigates the psychological profiles associated with different perceptions of SES, challenging the traditional view that high SES uniformly corresponds to specific psychological traits.

Two Dimensions of SES

Socioeconomic Status is a way to describe a person’s place in society based on how much money they earn, how much education they have, and what kind of job they do.

Laurin and her team found that participants’ descriptions of their SES experiences consistently fell into two distinct dimensions:

  1. Elite Life. This dimension captures a sense of belonging to a historical cultural elite. People high on this dimension often see themselves as part of an educated and influential social group, often marked by elite education, familial wealth, and powerful connections.
  2. Easy Life. This dimension reflects the ease of living and lack of financial worries. Individuals high on this dimension feel that their lives are relatively free of struggles and financial concerns.

The researchers did recognize that some people experience their status as difficult or challenging. However, their analysis showed that perceptions of “Elite Life” and “Easy Life” were the two most distinct and coherent dimensions that emerged from the data.

Word Clouds of Low-SES (Left-Hand Side) and High-SES (Right-Hand Side) Entries

The study’s findings, based on data from over 3,300 participants, reveal that these two dimensions are linked to different psychological profiles:

  • Individuals who perceive themselves as part of the elite tend to display characteristics often associated with high SES, such as narcissism, entitlement, and self-importance. These traits align with the notion of cultural privilege, where long-term socialization in affluent environments fosters a sense of superiority.
  • Conversely, those who feel their life is easy tend to exhibit traits like agreeableness, emotional stability, and conscientiousness. These individuals are more likely to be generous and tolerant, supporting the idea that a stress-free life fosters positive social behaviors and mental stability.

The study challenges the simplistic view that high SES uniformly results in either positive or negative psychological traits. Instead, it suggests that the way individuals perceive their SES can lead to different psychological outcomes. This nuanced understanding has important implications for how we study and interpret the effects of socioeconomic status on behavior and mental health.

Conclusion

This study shows that people see their socioeconomic status in two main ways: feeling like they are part of an elite group or feeling like their life is easy and without many struggles. These two views come with different attitudes and behaviors. People who see themselves as elite might be more self-focused, while those who feel their life is easy tend to be more generous and calm. Understanding these differences can help us better support people in different SES groups and create programs that address their specific needs and experiences.

Reviewed by the Psyhologer Editorial Team

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  1. https://dx.doi.org/10.1037/pspi0000453 []

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