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- Yachts, private jets, and fancy watches are common signifiers of wealth among the elite, but status symbols vary around the world.
- Status symbols aren’t just shaped by social influence, but by cultural and economic contexts.
- From the UK to the United Arab Emirates, status symbols range from prestigious nannies to falcons.
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The evolution of status symbols is related to their public perception.
If enough outsiders adopt a trend, action, or brand, they can change the meaning of its signal, according to Wharton professor Jonah Berger in his book, “Invisible Influence: The Hidden Forces That Shape Behavior.”
But there’s more to status symbols than social influence – cultural and economic contexts also shape status symbols. For example, the cost of living in an expensive city like New York City has made the ability to raise more than two children a status symbol. In Singapore, meanwhile, where land is hard to come by, owning a house marks one’s elite status.
Traditional wealth signifiers like private planes, yachts, and Rolexes may be a standard among the elite across the world, but status symbols also vary from place to place.
Here, seven status symbols from around the world.
In New York City, where it’s expensive to raise kids, having a big family can be a sign of wealth.
- REUTERS/Lucas Jackson
For wealthy moms in New York, where it’s particularly expensive to raise kids, having a big family is seen as the ultimate status symbol, according to Wednesday Martin, Ph.D., author of the 2015 memoir “Primates of Park Avenue.“
“Three was the new two, something you just did in this habitat. Four was the new three – previously conversation stopping, but now nothing unusual. Five was no longer crazy or religious – it just meant you were rich. And six was apparently the new town house – or Gulfstream,” Martin wrote.
According to Martin, the kids aren’t just status symbols but an opportunity for mothers to preen in front of one another and forge their own identities. Mothers on the Upper East Side, she said, wear tiny medallions engraved with their children’s initials around their necks and stacking rings – one for each child – on their fingers.
Limited land in Singapore makes owning a house a status symbol.
In Singapore, limited land makes owning a house the ultimate status symbol, Business Insider’s Katie Warren reported. Billionaires spend millions snapping up the island’s few single-family homes in secluded, ritzy neighborhoods like Orchard Road and Holland Village.
“Owning a piece of land in Singapore is certainly a privilege, as land is the most precious resource in the city-state,” Christine Li, a senior director and head of research for Singapore at Cushman & Wakefield Inc., told Yoojung Lee of Bloomberg. “Over the past five decades, land prices have appreciated significantly. This has fueled wealth creation for older generations.”
The most exclusive of these homes are classified as “Good Class Bungalows,” which are houses that typically have at least 15,000 square feet of living space, Lee said. There are only about 2,700 of them on the island. And only the top 5% of earners in Singapore can afford them – they tend to cost a least $1,190 a square foot, Lee reported.
India’s elite show off their wealth with a house in Mayfair, London.
- TOBY MELVILLE/Reuters
The Indian elite are flocking to London’s high-end real-estate market to purchase houses, Sudeshna Sen reported for The Economic Times in 2011. Black Brick, London’s largest independent buying agency, told Sen that Mayfair, an affluent area in London’s West End, is one of the most popular neighborhoods for Indian buyers.
But owning a house in Mayfair has only become a more prominent status symbol over time. Before 2015, a family of four in India could only take $400,000 out of the country, but a change by the Reserve Bank of India that year raised the limit to $1 million, according to Isabelle Fraser for The Telegraph in 2017. Since the change, Black Brick’s sales among Indian buyers increased by 13%, the company told Fraser.
Luxury cars are a big deal in Russia.
Luxury cars are a traditional status symbol in many places, but they take precedence in Russia. lya Merenzon, a businessman who splits his time between Russia and the US, told Condé Nast Traveler that he once met a deputy in the mayor’s office in Russia who told him, “I never start a meeting before seeing what car the person drives. If it’s less than a BMW or a Mercedes …”
Russians view luxury cars as such prime status symbols that they’re willing to pay for them even if it means spending less elsewhere, reported James Ellingworth of The Associated Press.
“Russians can allow themselves to rent a room in a shared flat on the fifth floor of a Khrushchev-era apartment building, live very poorly, but still drive an Audi,” Tatiana Lukavetskaya, CEO of Rolf, a major car dealer in Moscow and St. Petersburg, told Ellingworth. “That’s because everyone sees how I drive, but no one sees how I live.”
In the UK, Norland nannies are favored among the UK’s elite.
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Nannies who attend the prestigious nanny school Norland College in Europe are especially sought after by high-profile families around the world, to the point where they’ve become the ultimate status symbol, according to Lara Pendergrast for The Spectator.
However, they’re especially popular in the UK, where the school is based. According to Tal Dekel-Daks for Departures, Norland nannies are the choice child-carers among the UK elite. Graduates earn between $36,493 and $58,552 in London and between $48,793 and $84,343 outside of London, Business Insider previously reported.
You can spot a Norland nanny by their uniform – a brown dress or trousers, brown shoes, and dark tights – which acts as a status symbol in its own right, Dekel-Daks reported. Even the royals’ live-in nanny, Maria Teresa Turrion Borrallo, is a Norland College graduate.
Falcons are a status symbol in the United Arab Emirates.
Falconry has played a central role in the United Arab Emirates and Middle Eastern culture, where nomads have long used falcons to hunt for food, Harrison Jacobs reported for Business Insider.
In the UAE, falconers train their falcons, which can cost up to $60,000 a bird, to race in the President’s Cup, a national competition in which the winner can earn up to $7 million in prizes. The pricey birds have become a status symbol akin to fancy European sports cars, Jacobs wrote.
They even get first-class treatment – the pets, which have their own passports, are allowed to fly in cabins on Middle Eastern airlines, Bianca Britton reported for CNN.
China is embracing flashy brand logos as a status symbol.
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Logos from high-end brands like Louis Vuitton and Gucci have witnessed a global resurgence on the runway in recent seasons. In Western cultures, the trend is seeing a revival, but in China, it’s seeing particular growth, reported Yiling Pan for Quartz. Ten years ago, wearing logos evoked disdain in China, but today, they’re appreciated as a marker of luxury status, according to Pan.
China’s obsession with hip-hop and streetwear, Pan wrote, has helped spawn the trend. Luxury streetwear is taking hold among the elite globally, but it has different roots in China. The popular Chinese reality show “The Rap of China” sparked interest in streetwear brands and was arguably the biggest mainstream platform for hip-hop and streetwear culture in the country’s history, he said.
“Ultimately whether wearing logos is aesthetically relevant and socially appropriate reflects consumers’ level of economic optimism,” Ray Ju, a consultant at Labbrand, told Pan. “And that’s why logos of big-name brands have once again become popular among Chinese luxury consumers, who are optimistic about the future of their country and their own bank accounts.”