The Connection Between Wealth And Wanton

By: Rachel Krause / February 28, 2012

The term “classy” winks at, well, the upper class. When we say someone has “class,” we mean to say that such a person is refined or even elegant in their behavior and the way they carry themselves, in a manner that’s typical of a higher caste. It suggests that people who are born into, or climb into, a higher social echelon are better-behaved, have better taste, and are all-around better.

As anyone who’s ever read an F. Scott Fitzgerald novel or grown up in a wealthy setting can attest, that belief is downright laughable.

While it’s a shameful generalization to say that the most fortunate people (shall we say, the 1 percent?) are also the most shockingly undignified, a new study by the National Academy of Sciences has all but confirmed a correlation between being at once fiscally blessed and morally bankrupt. Researchers reported that, over a series of seven experiments, members of the “upper class” were “more likely to break the law while driving, take candy from children, lie in negotiation, cheat to increase their odds of winning a prize, and endorse unethical behavior at work.” Surprised? I’m not — at all. Growing up what I like to call lower-upper class in contrast to a town that was (and is) upper-upper-upper class, I bore witness to some of the most incredibly malicious and asinine behavior from my peers and their parents, my parents’ peers, alike. To a certain degree, I’m pretty self-involved myself, and my own morals are sometimes questionable, but these people blow me out of the water. The most accurate comparison I can make is that I went to high school with 2,000 Scott Disicks. Their fathers? Also Scott Disicks … but just this side of Patrick Bateman. Welcome to Fairfield County, bitches!

I digress slightly, but I don’t stray too far from the point. This study only builds upon previous research, which has shown that wealthy people are worse at recognizing the feelings of others and are more likely to be entirely disengaged during social interactions than others. Wealth clouds the mind. One of the authors of the study, Paul Piff, who is a Ph.D. candidate in psychology, sums it up very well: “It’s not that the rich are innately bad, but as you rise in the ranks — whether as a person or a nonhuman primate — you become more self-focused.” Indeed, you do. [Bloomberg Business Week]