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August 15, 2022updated 16 Aug 2022 4:56am

How are attitudes to wealth shifting around the world?

By Katharine Swindells

Despite living in a digital age, new research suggests that geography still has a significant bearing on our attitudes to wealth.

People from Asian countries such as China, Vietnam, Japan and South Korea, for example,  place more importance on being wealthy and have a higher opinion of wealthy people than those from Western Countries.

Sociologist Rainer Zitelmann conducted the research with Ipsos Mori and Allensbach, surveying over 10,000 people from across Asia, Europe, and the United States. The study forms part of his ongoing research into perceptions of wealth and what he terms ‘social envy’.

When asked whether it was important to be rich, three quarters of respondents from Vietnam said it was, as did 63% of South Koreans and 50% of respondents from China. In contrast, the percentages among those from Western countries were far lower, with only 30% of Americans saying they prioritise wealth.

Of the countries surveyed, the British placed the lowest value on being wealthy, with less than a fifth saying it was important to them.

Respondents were also given a list of personality traits, and asked whether they would apply them to the rich. Those from China and Vietnam were most likely to describe rich people as ‘honest,’ while only 1% of respondents from Spain and Italy would say the same.

However, when segmented into only people who knew a very wealthy person in real life, respondents were far more likely to say that person is honest. Zitelmann argues this shows the influence of pop culture on public perceptions of wealth.

‘This shows that the image of the rich is very strongly influenced by prejudices, because respondents who know one or more rich people personally have a far more positive opinion than respondents who only know the rich from media reports and films,’ he said.

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Zitelmann’s analysis forms an overall picture in his ‘Rich Sentiment Index,’ which shows overall whether individuals have a positive or negative attitude to the rich, where a higher score indicates a more negative attitude. Respondents from France had the most negative view, alongside those from Germany and Spain, while the Vietnamese and Japanese had a more positive view.

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