My very favorite newspaper, bar none, is the Weekend Edition of the Financial Times (sorry, New York Times). The paper has a number of terrific columnists and one of the best is Simon Kuper and his column Opening Shot.
In his column of May 27, 2017, he writes about a recently published book, titled The Sum of Small Things by Elizabeth Currid-Halkett, a professor at the University of Southern California. In this 254-page tome she defines “the aspirational class” who aim to be “better humans” rather than simply rich.
Elizabeth Currid-Halkett: author, speaker, researcher
For example, the top 10% of American earners (which includes most of the cultural elite) spends a shrinking slice of its income on cars, TV sets and household items, things that the middle class still values.
SO WHAT DO THEY BUY?
The cultural elite spends relatively little on beauty products, but splurges on exercise because it thinks bodies (like food) should look natural. They’re also into “inconspicuous consumption” or things you cannot see, such as: nannies to save time, elite magazines to feed their brains and status. “The top 1% to 5% [of American earners] spend, on average, 5% of their total expenditures on education, while the middle class barely spends 1%,” she writes.
I was sufficiently intrigued by Kuper’s description of this book to put it on reserve at the library. After a couple of weeks I got an email saying that it had arrived so I picked it up and started reading right away.
Initially, I found it quite scholarly. Of course, she’s a PhD (and a workaholic with a husband and two children) – what did I expect? But then I hit a section that really grabbed me. Here’s a brief recap of pages 162 to 165.
SOME CITIES’ RESIDENTS EAT HEALTHIER THAN OTHERS
Los Angeles, New York, Miami and San Francisco are the biggest fruit and vegetable consumers. Angelinos spend 30%-40% more of their total expenditures on fresh vegetables and between 10% and 40% more on fruit than any other city, except San Francisco. These cities are home to people who care a lot about health and looking good.
WHO SPENDS THE LEAST ON VEGETABLES AND FRUIT?
Dallas, Houston, Philadelphia and Baltimore rank as the lowest consumers of fresh vegetables and fruit. Instead, they are known for steak, barbecue, beer and comfort foods.
WHERE ARE CANDY, CHEWING GUM AND COLA POPULAR?
The three listed above, as well as artificial sweeteners, are popular in the Midwest but, for the most part, are avoided in coastal cities. In 2010, New Yorkers spent about half as much as most cities spend on artificial sweeteners and 55% less on candy and chewing gum. Non-metro areas also buy more frozen and canned vegetables and fruit rather than fresh.
WHAT CITIES SPEND THE MOST ON COFFEE?
New York City, home to what is thought to be the crazed, coffee-addicted urbanite, actually consumes less than the national average by about 30%. The real urban coffee drinkers are in Boston, Detroit, Philadelphia and the suburbs of Los Angeles. Seattle spends the most on roasted coffee.
WHO SPENDS ON NON-ALCOHOLIC BEER AND WINE?
Urban dwellers consume NONE of the country’s non-alcoholic beer (the author reiterates, “And I mean none of it”) and, universally, spend more money on dining out and drinking wine. San Francisco, San Diego, New York and Boston spend more than TWICE as much on wine than the national average. Boston is an overachiever in ALL AREAS of alcoholic consumption. Miami spends about 40% less than the rest of he country on alcoholic beverages.
WHO SPENDS THE MOST ON HOUSING?
New York residents spend the most – about 50% more than the national average – this includes renters and owners. The most expensive housing market overall is San Francisco which is the hottest real estate market in the country.
WHO SPENDS MONEY ON SHOES AND WATCHES?
New York City women spend two times more on shoes than everyone else. Now here is, what I consider, the most astounding statistic in the entire book: New Yorkers spend about 27 times more on watches than everyone else – no other city even comes close.
Interesting stuff – isn’t it?Shaun Nelson-Henrick
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