The Economics of Social Standing

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Behavioral economics explicitly considers the effects of social, cognitive and emotional factors on individuals’ economic decisions. No surprise there that a person’s mind affects their decisions.

But what about the Economics of Social Status?

No, not social economics (the study of how norms, ethics, trends, philosophy, etc affect the economy). I’m talking about the value of peoples’ perceptions of your status, the wealth of having social power (the ability to influence people), and the toll it takes when a person feels bankrupt.

There is production and consumption and transfers of power in society which give people and groups credibility, mobility, and the ability to affect change. It’s as if life is a giant school cafeteria, and the cool kids sit over there, burnouts hang by the vending machines, and the theatre kids are working on sets so they don’t even take lunch…

There’s a structure, hierarchy, intangible points system based on norms, trends, etc. And losing points – whew – that’s like joining Mathletes: social suicide. And it provide insight about why folks hesitate or fail to seek to help or admit to having thoughts/feelings outside of the mainstream.

Teens, fearing disdain and rejection, keep pregnancies secret. People of all ages stay in the closet. Women enduring abuse hold to tradition or belief, or are otherwise disempowered to do anything to liberate themselves. Boys go without the emotional leadership necessary to handle the rage that results in school shootings.

The fear of negative feedback for not fitting into the cookie-cutter picture of perfection is frightening. As pack animals, humans feel a deep and inexplicable need to be accepted. When you’re accepted, you enjoy the benefits of the group: safety, care, influence, belongingness, etc. Status, in the grand scheme, is everything.

The prospect of losing it all keeps people quiet. Fear of being deemed “defective” and the resulting exile plays too deeply into the innate fear of not being accepted, of losing the social currency in the marketplace of humanity.