Trickle-Round Signals: When Low Status Is Mixed with High

From The Journal of Consumer Research:

* While high-status individuals can afford to depart from the norms without penalties because of their blanket social acceptance, middle-status individuals are more concerned because their position is less certain (Feshbach 1967; Hollander 1958; Rao, Monin, and Durand 2005). As such, middles tend to refrain from choosing any items that might compromise their already-tenuous standing and opt for clear status symbols (e.g., loudly branded products) to compensate for their insecurity (Rucker and Galinsky 2008).

Middles may also avoid items associated with lows because the likelihood of misidentification is higher. Indeed, more similar out-groups pose a greater threat to distinctiveness because they are more likely to be confused or associated with the in-group
(White and Langer 1999). This, combined with the anxiety to demonstrate their social standing, leads middles to strongly avoid items associated with lower strata…

In summary, avoidance by middles should make some low-status items particularly appealing for high-status individuals. Because emulating lows is costly and risky for middles, doing so provides an alternative way for highs to distinguish themselves. Rather than a linear percolation upward, we argue that tastes and styles may move directly from the bottom of society to the upper class, only then diffusing to the middle—that is, trickling round rather than trickling up. We do not suggest that selecting low-status items is the only way highs can differentiate themselves. Instead, we simply argue that this signaling strategy, which is gaining momentum in the marketplace, provides a valuable alternative that is not captured by prior theories on fashion and diffusion of status symbols.

About Luke Ford

I've written five books (see My work has been followed by the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, and 60 Minutes. I teach Alexander Technique in Beverly Hills (
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