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Dr. Eloundou Enyegue discusses global differences in displays of wealth & status in The Atlantic

Updated: Apr 7, 2020

"But worldwide, a sensitivity to money, and to the significance of having a lot of it, is on some level inescapable—monitoring and modulating the financial signals one sends seem to be nearly universal impulses. Parfait Eloundou-Enyegue, a development-sociology professor at Cornell University, told me that when income or wealth is invoked as a status symbol, it can spark a competition with others that will be unpleasant for all involved. “For that reason,” he said, “people will refrain from the most blatant forms of self-puffery unless they are absolutely necessary or effective.”

“If you must display your money, you strategically select occasions that draw sympathy and avert the retaliatory arms race,” Eloundou-Enyegue said. “In Ghana, for instance, families may spend large fortunes on elaborate funerals, to display wealth under the veil of grieving.” As a society or group becomes more affluent, he said, overt status displays become more frowned upon—hence wealthy Americans’ (only slightly) subtler references to certain zip codes, vacation destinations, or private schools."

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