How People Judge Whether You're Rich or Not

A new study says owning an iPhone automatically makes people think you're wealthy.
IMAGE Freepik - Prakasit Khuansuwan

Expensive clothing accessories are no longer the best indicators of wealth, says a new study.

A U.S. National Bureau of Economic Research study shows that people are more likely to look at the phone you're using instead of the clothes you're toting. University of Chicago economists Marianne Bertrand and Emir Kamenica analyzed cultural distance trends in the U.S. by income, education, gender, race, and political ideology.

Here's a list of products, brands, and activities that ranked high as an indicator of affluence:

Domestic Travel

At 70.9 percent, traveling in the continental U.S. ranked as the highest indicator of having a high- income. According to the study, travel-related experiences and services have been present on the list since 1992 but these hit an all-time high in 2016.

IMAGE: Wikicommons


Unsurprisingly, the study found a direct correlation between having a passport and wealth and education. The respondents who perceived passports as a wealth indicator are backed by statistics. The Atlantic reported in 2011 that people with more money travel more often.


Bluetooth Car Stereo

Having a car with Bluetooth connectivity is enough for people to assume that you're wealthy. This factor scored a high 70.2 percent for respondents.

Temperature Controlled Car Seats

Another car feature that ranked high are temperature controlled car seats. This feature is commonly seen in luxury car makers such as BMW, Mercedes-Benz, Jeep, and Audi, to name a few.


Of all the high-ranking wealth indicators, an iPhone is probably the easiest to acquire. The Apple device scored 69.1 percent in the study. "Across all years in our data, no individual brand is as predictive of being high-income as owning an Apple iPhone in 2016," the researchers said.

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If your kitchen is equipped with a dishwasher, it could be enough for someone to assume that you're wealthy.

Frequent Flier Club Membership

Aside from regular travel, being a part of a frequent flier program automatically makes you wealthier in some people's eyes.

International Travel

Surprisingly, international travel ranked lower as a wealth indicator for those who took part in the research. It still, however, managed to get a 67.7 ratingÂwith aÂ3.2 percent difference from domestic travel.

Online Shopping

Just plain online shopping makes you look affluent to other people. Even if, according to other research, that eight out of ten Americans frequently shop online.

Plane Ticket via Internet

Buying your plane ticket through the Internet was indicated by respondents as a wealth indicator.

IMAGE: Esquire UK


The second Apple product to make the list is an iPad. Using a tablet both ranked as an indicator of wealth and education in the research. Researchers shared, "Knowing whether someone owns an iPad in 2016 allows us to guess correctly whether the person is in the top or bottom income quartile 69 percent of the time."

Android Phone

The technology-heavy list also includes Android phones. The mobile operating system ranked at 59.5 percent which is a high difference from the iPhone's 69.1 percent.


The only food product on the list is Kikkoman, a popular brand of soy sauce. Using it, as opposed to generic or lesser-known brands, places you in the high-income category for many.



What brand printer and fax machine you use is, apparently, a big factor when it comes to status. Hewlett-Packard's (HP) products were thought to be a brand wealthy people used by those who partook in the panel.

Samsung Television

People also look at the brand of your television. In this case, Samsung products impressed respondents the most.



Ziploc may not seem as something luxurious, but according to the study 57.5 percent think that this is a wealth indicator.ÂThe brand of reusable, re-sealable zipper storage bags and containers is noticeably priced higher than generic and lesser-known brands.


Coming Apart? Cultural Distances in the United States over Time

This story originally appeared on

* Minor edits have been made by the editors.

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About The Author
Paolo Chua
Associate Style Editor
Paolo Chua is the Associate Style Editor at Esquire Philippines, where he writes about fashion and grooming. Before joining Esquire Philippines, he was a writer at Town & Country Philippines.
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