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Money, income, and wealth are the first few aspects that strike our minds when we talk about poverty. How would you define poverty? While some perceive poverty as not having enough material possessions to lead a comfortable and luxurious life, others think that being poor means not having enough to eat, not living in a hygienic “germ-free” house, and in-accessibility to quality health care. The idea of poverty is not just intuitive, but also illusive.

In a world that measures poverty with the scales of money and status, it’s easy to overlook what poverty actually implies. While financial struggles are undoubtedly a significant aspect of everyone’s lives, is everyone who faces them poor? The interplay between status and money profoundly impacts how one views the idea of poverty. This article navigates the ideas of status and money and how they have shaped the very definition of poverty. Additionally, this article delves into the complexities of poverty, proving why being poor is just a state of mind, not a condition.

Money vs Status- What is Involved?

Having money and having a high status are two different things. Why? Consider this. 

Money provides material comfort and resources for basic needs and wants. It ensures a sense of security and stability in terms of housing, food, and healthcare. Also, money provides access to educational opportunities.

What about Status? Status is often associated with social recognition and admiration from others. Having a certain status provides a sense of belonging and acceptance within certain circles, opening the doors to exclusive networks and opportunities. 

Among the two, what is the world chasing? Money or Status?

An Economy That Is Driven By An Innate Desire for Status

We are living amidst an economy in which people crave status and social connections. They are inclining more towards experiences or environments that are seen as trendy or of high status- even if they lack the necessary financial means.

In a status economy, social standing, reputation, and popularity play integral roles in defining individual behaviour. Social connections, cultural capital, and personal achievements help in earning a certain social status. People are always on the run to enhance their status, and this is often reflected in their consumption patterns. Individuals strive to acquire and flaunt numerous material possessions and experiences that are symbols of high status.

Decision-making, career choices, health habits, and even diets are influenced by status. Moreover, status also influences personal well-being because individuals prioritise activities that are categorised as “higher status” at the cost of their happiness and contentment. When the status is prioritised in an economy, the focus shifts from net worth and financial wealth to the flow of money and the ability to generate value and elevate one's status through the circulation of money. The ability to generate networking opportunities and establish connections through the flow of money is considered a valuable asset in the status-driven economy.

How the Desire for Status is Shaping the Idea of Poverty

Poverty is no longer believed as a condition in which one has to fight for survival. The innate desire for status has transformed the definition of poverty. Not having an impressive job title, a fancy house, and a lavish car is being regarded as being poor. People want a higher status and believe it can be attained through money. When they don’t have the required amount of money to attain status, they consider themselves poor. In reality, all they have is a desire to attain a higher status. 

Those who claim to be poor aren’t necessarily starving or homeless. Despite having the necessary financial resources to afford a basic standard of living, a lot of people call themselves “poor” because they prioritise status over necessities. They prefer high-end branded clothing and expensive food in fancy restaurants and quite often are unwilling to work for it. If one is not aware of better alternatives, then the basic minimum money will be sufficient for him. 

Having little or limited financial resources is not equal to being impoverished or poor. Individuals are driven by the desire to attain more financial resources and improve their social status. A status economy contributes to inequality, social comparison, and anxiety- all of which are the roots of the problem of “feeling poor”. In a status economy, how one perceives worth is hugely dependent on external validation. In simple terms, if you don’t own that particular car, can’t go on a holiday to that particular place, or can’t afford a certain high-end brand, you are of less worth, and this is exactly how people assume that they are poor even if they aren’t. A status economy is a complex phenomenon and establishes an unequal social structure that negatively influences how people view themselves and others.

What is the result? Poverty has emerged as a state of mind- a misguided “feeling” of being poor because one doesn’t possess a higher status. 

How Social Media Fuels The Desire For Status

Social media plays a significant role in shaping the desire for higher status. People often post about their vacations, shopping sprees, and their fancy brunches. Trying to replicate the lifestyles of such people affects how he views his or her financial condition. Social media sets unrealistic perspectives on finances and drives people to make choices that aren't appropriate for their means. Social media is largely responsible for the misconception about being poor. It glorifies people who showcase their wealth and status through luxurious goods, thereby fuelling the illusive belief that such luxury items equate to a higher status. The truth is that many such luxury items seen on social media are rented, borrowed, or obtained temporarily. When someone with limited financial means sees them on social media, they are misguided into thinking that they are poor.

People often compare themselves to picture-perfect celebrities and influencers on Instagram or Facebook, and that’s where the problem of “feeling poor” starts to take shape. Such people often forget that they have a roof over their heads, clothes to wear, food to eat, and just enough money to pay the bills. If a person self-identifies as poor despite having all of the above, it’s purely a resultant feeling of comparing himself to people who have a higher social status than him.

What Does Basic Living Mean In An Economy Driven By Status?

In an economy that is purely driven by the desire for status, what exactly is a basic standard of living? It refers to a minimum level of material comfort and well-being or aligning to parameters that signify an acceptable social standing. In a status economy, the idea of basic living is influenced by prevailing social norms and societal expectations. Basic living in a status economy is intertwined with status symbols. For example, the type of housing, the brand of clothing, or the cost of the food consumed is seen as symbols of status.

To put it in simple terms, basic living in a status economy means a Walmart lifestyle and eating Costco pizza. These brands aren’t high-end. Though they are sufficient for survival, they lack status. Most people aren’t willing to settle for basic living and want a higher-status lifestyle. They feel the pressure to attain the status-linked essentials to improve or maintain their social standing. Why? Because a basic living standard in a status economy is often judged and thus leads to social stratification. Because of this, the lines between basic living and status-driven living are blurred and this ultimately affects individual choices.

How Money Fuels The Status Game

The American Economy is dominated by the concept of a universal basic living standard above the poverty level. People are often involved in a status game, persistently trying to outrank others and boost their self-esteem through money and luxurious material possessions. Money is seen as the means to attain a comfortable and luxurious lifestyle that is filled with prestigious experiences. Accumulation of money provides individuals with the opportunity to visually display their status and gain considerable recognition in their social circles.

Money and Investments

People with more money often invest it in various sectors like the stock market, mutual funds, or in business ventures. What does this accomplish? Their wealth is being circulated back to the economy. The wealth of individuals like Warren Buffet benefits the nation as their investments contribute to the growth and development of various industries and ventures.

Money, Status, and Ownership

In today’s world, many individuals equate money with status and ownership. The priority is to boost self-esteem by utilising money to afford material possessions and luxuries. What is the ultimate goal here? To achieve a higher social status. The desire for ownership is quite popular today- the more goods and luxuries one owns, the more independent one gets to be. This notion of independence is pretty far from reality because, as humans, we depend on others for several aspects of our lives. However, the distorted view of money has made people inclined more towards the idea that money brings status and ownership rather than its ability to satisfy basic human needs.

Money and Quality of Life

How do we define “quality of life?” Every individual’s financial needs, desires, and goals are different. The quality of life depends on these factors. Being able to afford luxuries or high-end material possessions is often equated to a higher quality of life, whereas not being able to afford them, which is considered as “being poor” is equated to a degraded quality of life. People fear the decline of their respective social statuses because of the misguided opinion that more money means a better quality of life.

Money and Financial Independence

Who wouldn’t want financial freedom, right? Financial freedom is an elusive concept that promises independence, abundance, and more than enough money in which you can swim. However, the idea of financial independence is both subjective and elusive. Why? Because complete independence does not exist. As humans, dependence on others in various aspects of life is inevitable. We all need practical help now and then, and getting some from our friends, family, or roommates isn’t a bad thing entirely.

Being Poor Is More Than Just Money

Poverty was once viewed as a state of deprivation and struggle. Real poverty meant a daily struggle or agony of not having the resources to buy a meal, or having to decide whether you should feed the children or pay for the shelter. Real poverty brings isolation to a person, making them live in constant fear and anxiety. Being really “poor” was considered as wondering where the next meal would come from, fearing the risk of homelessness, or worrying about not being able to afford a simple prescription medicine for the child. 

But what about now? In today’s world, poverty is more of an illusion, and people are more concerned about having a low status. For many, being financially poor doesn't necessarily equate to physical starvation or a lack of necessities. People have fulfilling lives, raise children, and enjoy modest comforts like affordable clothing and occasional family vacations, and still call themselves poor. Why? They are under the illusion that unless it’s high-end clothing, an exotic vacation, and a lavish lifestyle, it is living in poverty.

In the modern economy, poverty is more than just money- it’s about status. It is nothing less than a state of mind which is driven by a distorted view of money and a desire to belong to the upper rung of the status ladder.

Wrapping It Up

Not being able to afford a trip, or not being able to pay for a decent renovation or buy a pretty pair of shoes that were found online, is the definition of poverty nowadays. But is it true? No. It simply means that the person has a low status and limited financial means. 

When someone asks for money or a tip, they may not necessarily be begging for financial assistance but rather are seeking a way to improve their financial and social status. Almost anyone can afford necessities like driving a Corolla and eating Costco pizza, but the reluctance to embrace this denotes a desire for status. 

To wrap it up, here is a brief summary of the article:

  • People are inclining more towards money and the pursuit of status has redefined poverty.
  • A Status-driven economy urges people to chase experiences, often exceeding financial means.
  • Unrealistic standards bred by social media distort the perception of poverty.
  • Blurred lines between basic living and status-driven living impact personal choices and individual views of poverty.
  • Poverty is more than just money. It’s all about status.

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