Rich People Perhaps Not So Empathetic

Illustration for article titled Rich People Perhaps Not So Empathetic

Are you jealous of rich people, what with their indoor riding arenas and weddings that become national holidays? Take heart, commoners: the rich have less empathy than the rest of us.


According to one study, reported (somewhat vaguely, but without the customary obnoxion) by the Daily Mail, students who self-identified as being of high socioeconomic standing were worse than other students at reading people's emotions during a job interview. The study authors' explanation: rich people don't need to understand others' feelings, because they don't have to rely on people as much. The example in the Daily Mail is childcare — a wealthy family can pay someone to watch the kids, but parents with less dough may need to negotiate with family or friends for help watching the kids, and this kind of negotiation presumably requires empathy and understanding.


Of course, it's possible that rich people are just naturally callous, and that they become rich in part because they don't consider other people's emotions when wheeling and dealing. But another study shows that the rich can become more empathetic — if made to feel poorer (perhaps by looking at Sheryl Crow's house).

So if the rich were all taken down a peg or two every now and then, would the world be a warmer, fuzzier place? Dickens would probably say yes, but there's one more interesting wrinkle — higher education may also reduce people's ability to read emotions. In a third study, participants with and without college degrees were asked to identify the feelings displayed on a series of faces. The college graduates did significantly worse. Are the people who end up in college less socially skilled than those who don't? Or is there something about college that makes students less attuned to the people around them? Whatever the case, these studies are a warning that as people climb the class and education ladders, they may sacrifice their ability to relate to others — and since people at the top of these ladders generally run our economy and our country, that's cause for concern.

Why The rich Are No Good At Empathy ... They Don't Need To Be [Daily Mail]

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I don't know nothin' 'bout no rich people, but I do remember reading about the "college students have less empathy" study when it came out, and thinking that the explanation for the lack of empathy was that your typical college student is in their late teens to early twenties and has very little life experience. Life experience leads to empathy because you have been (or can imagine yourself to be) in another person's shoes. That's why every college class has at least one Privilege Denying Dude.

ETA: I realized, after typing this, that I was being a little classist. Many college students come from fairly sheltered middle- and upper-class backgrounds, and those were the ones I was referring to. There are a growing number of college students from impoverished or working class backgrounds, or non-traditional students who are older (I was one of these). I did not take these students into account in my sweeping generalization above.