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Americans Perceive Overworked People as Having High Status

Taking the afternoon off for a round of golf or enjoying a beach holiday in a five-star resort were once signs of having "made it." But according to a new study from researchers at Harvard, Americans increasingly perceive busy and overworked people as having high status.

The study relied on a number of experiments. First, the researchers combed through social media posts by celebrities and found more than one in ten were about being too busy or "not having a life." In another experiment, a hundred participants were asked to read a fictional letter from a "friend" named Daniel. In one version, he complained about being "crazy busy" and never having time to watch TV. In another, he talked about being relaxed and often watching sports on TV. On a scale of one to seven, participants ranked busy Daniel more than twice as high on a measure of wealth and social status as they ranked leisurely Daniel.

The study also pointed to a number of ads that reflect our value on being hyper-busy. A recent Rolex ad asked: "Checking his watch costs Bill Gates $300 a second. What is your time worth?" And an ad campaign for The Wall Street Journal features celebrities reading the paper with the tagline, "People who don't have time make time to read The Wall Street Journal." In a recent Cadillac ad a middle-aged actor sitting by the pool says, "Why do we work so hard? Other countries, they work, they stroll home, they stop by the café, they take August off. Off! Why aren't we like that? Because we are crazy-driven hard-working believers, that's why!"

The researchers concluded that our new "conspicuous consumption" is no longer about scarce things like jewelry or money or cars. Instead, it's about saying, "'I am the scarce resource, and therefore I am valuable'… Displaying one's busyness at work and lack of leisure time operates as a visible signal of status in the eyes of others."

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