Long gone are the days when a life of material excess and endless leisure time signified prestige. According to a new study from Professor Silvia Bellezza of Columbia Business School, Americans increasingly perceive busy and overworked people as having high status. The study has been published in the Journal of Consumer Research.
“We examined how signaling busyness at work impacts perceptions of status in the eyes of others,” write Bellezza and her co-authors Neeru Pahari and Anat Keinan of Harvard University. “We found that the more we believe that people have the opportunity for social affirmation based on hard work, the more we tend to think that people who skip leisure and work all the time are of higher standing.”
High-status Americans a generation ago might have boasted about their lives of leisure, but today they’re more likely to engage in humblebrag, telling those around them how they “have no life” or desperately need a vacation.
To explore this phenomenon, the authors conducted a series of studies, drawing participants mostly from Italy and the US. While busyness at work is associated with high status among Americans, the effect is reversed for Italians, who still view a leisurely life as representative of high status.
Further, the authors found that the use of products and services showcasing one’s busyness can also convey status. For instance, the online shopping and delivery grocery brand Peapod signals status just as much as expensive brands, such as Whole Foods, by virtue of its associations with timesaving and a busy lifestyle.
“We uncovered an alternative type of conspicuous consumption that operated by shifting the focus from the preciousness and scarcity of goods to the preciousness and scarcity of individuals,” the authors conclude. “People’s social-mobility beliefs are psychologically driven by the perception that busy individuals possess desirable characteristics, leading them to be viewed as scarce and in demand.”
To learn more about the cutting-edge research being conducted at Columbia Business School, please visit www.gsb.columbia.edu.
About Columbia Business School
Columbia Business School is the only world–class, Ivy League business school that delivers a learning experience where academic excellence meets with real–time exposure to the pulse of global business. Led by Dean Glenn Hubbard, the School’s transformative curriculum bridges academic theory with unparalleled exposure to real–world business practice, equipping students with an entrepreneurial mindset that allows them to recognize, capture, and create opportunity in any business environment. The thought leadership of the School’s faculty and staff, combined with the accomplishments of its distinguished alumni and position in the center of global business, means that the School’s efforts have an immediate, measurable impact on the forces shaping business every day. To learn more about Columbia Business School’s position at the very center of business, please visit www.gsb.columbia.edu.
About the researcher
Silvia Bellezza is the Gantcher Associate Professor of Business in Marketing at Columbia Business School. Her research focuses on consumer behavior and symbolic consumption...Read more.