The status symbol of today is having no time for nearly anything other than work.
Status symbols are physical or material indications of a person's wealth, social status, or both. These symbols can change over decades and centuries as society changes as well. However, its essence remains the same: the presence of a status symbol is an indication that someone is prestigious or worthy of admiration.
Up until relatively recently, material goods and having enough time for leisure activities were status symbols. If you can afford to take a month off to lounge on a beach in Ibiza, you were definitely someone with some degree of wealth or importance. However, a recent study has found that these days, working hard afforded people more prestige. If you work hard and hardly have time for yourself, you have an elevated status in people's eyes.
However, this isn't true for all cultures across the world. Participants from both the US and Italy contributed to the study's findings. The researchers noted that in the US, hard work has become the new status symbol. However, in Italy, being able to afford leisure was still indicative of high status.
Of course, material things still come into play in terms of status symbols. However, the researchers found that material possessions that signal how busy you are indicate status as well. For example, being seen shopping at a high-end boutique is indicative of status. However, online shopping now also indicates status, because it shows that someone is too busy to actually go shopping. Grocery delivery brands are also status symbols now as much as expensive food brands are. This is because they indicate that the person who ordered the delivery has too busy a life.
What is behind this shift? According to the study, the wealthiest people in the US spend more time at work than less wealthy people. However, the reason these hard-working people are admired is not solely because of the money they earn. It's also because spending more time at work indicates the desirable and admirable personal characteristics.
"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 write.
Therefore, up until recently, scarce or hardly-affordable goods and services were valuable. These days, however, people who are scarce in time are more valuable. The characteristics that these people possess are considered to be scarce, and are therefore valuable and aspirational.
So next time you want to impress your friends or that aunt who has never approved of you, try humblebragging about how busy you are. Of course, this is still cultural. Some countries and cultures may still place a higher value on the acquisition of valuable material goods instead of the cultivation of desirable personal characteristics.
In any case, what do you find to be more aspirational and valuable? What is the more valuable status symbol—busyness or leisure?
Get weekly science updates in your inbox!