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Living Like Your Friends Instead of emulating folks with a similar income people are taking their consumption cues from television characters how do those under-employed women on Friends afford that great apartment relatives friends and co-workers whose income often far exceeds their own In a culture that seems to worship wealth and celebrity this can get expensive The bottom line according to Schor is that who you choose as a reference group affects how you save and spend The fact is Americans are spending and consuming as if there were no tomorrow and needless to say theyre not paying cash As a result personal credit card debt has doubled in the last four years individual bankruptcies are at an all-time high and people are trading financial security for short-term gratification In fact as Schor points out the median American family has less than 10000 in assets while savings rates have plummeted in the last decade and a half A recession she notes dryly could be painful Who is doing all this spending and why To try to answer this question Schor conducted a lengthy survey of employees at a large telecommunications company in the Southeast According to Schor the really really surprising variable was education Conventional wisdom says that more educated people will be more educated consumers Instead she found the reverse The greater the level of education she found the higher the level of spending Better educated people were more tied to the culture of upscale consuming Education raised aspirations This is not to suggest that less educated groups are immune from pressures to spend however Despite lost income share long work hours terrible wages and worsening benefits families in the bottom third income bracket are nevertheless faced with the same consumption cues as everyone else For many low-income individuals the lure of consumerism is hard to resist Schor writes When the money isnt there however feelings of deprivation
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