Meanwhile, it is the high-earning but consumption-oriented under accumulators of wealth (UAWs) who patronize luxury car dealerships, high-end country clubs, and so- called "high fashion" clothing manufacturers. In this regard, one of the most powerful influences motivating such irresponsible consumption is the concentration of media attention on relatively few wealthy celebrities whose model of ostentatious consumption is simply not representative of the habits of most Americans with equally high net worth (Stanley & Danko 1996).
Whereas many PAWs earn substantially less than some of their UAW counterparts, they invest a substantial portion of their salaries into long-term stable investments that translate into a secure financial future. Conversely, the typical UAW, many of whom are so-called "successful professionals" earning very high salaries, increases spending to match any increase in income. As a result of continually "trading up" to the most expensive car, home, and clothing they can afford at any given time and income level, the high-earning but fast-spending UAWs actually find themselves in the identical position of the working poor, in that they live paycheck to meet their monthly expenses with nothing left over for long-term future financial security (Stanley & Danko 1996).
To a large degree, the motivation of continual upward mobility as measured by the ability to display the trappings associated with wealth pervades all segments of American social culture, differing at various levels of wealth only in the specific types of displays available. Most of the more than 2 million Americans already defaulting on their mortgages or on the verge of default on their homes in the subprime mortgage crisis are victims of their own greed and the compulsion to acquire the most expensive home for which they could fudge their financial qualifications instead of a home with values and mortgages that corresponded more realistically to their actual income (Lowenstein 2007).
Given the relationship between societal values with respect to vocational success and their underlying psychological motivation, the solution lies more in the realm of social psychology and the basis for self-esteem in the individual than strictly in economic issues (Branden 1985).
Differentiating Healthy and Dysfunctional Vocational Motivation: In principle, vocational satisfaction comes in psychologically healthy forms as well as profoundly dysfunctional forms. Genuine interest in a particular type of work, the need to provide for the necessities of life and ordinary comforts, and satisfaction directly attributable to the actual value inherent in one's work would be examples of the former; examples of the latter would include the psychological need to impress others with one's vocational status, the desire to display trappings of wealth, or to live in "exclusive" upscale neighborhoods. Therefore, the identical occupation can be sought for psychologically sound reasons and for psychologically dysfunctional reasons (Branden 1985).
Renowned social commentator and author Studs Terkel (1997) documented the myriad experiences of workers in the U.S. And his extensive observations detailed the degree to which vocational identity is a fundamental component of self-identity in American social culture. Decades earlier, Mills (1953) explored the origin and subsequent evolution of the psychological importance of the concept of vocational status and the distinction between "white collar" and "blue collar" in this country.
Deriving personal satisfaction from the value of one's vocational efforts to society or from the inherent enjoyment of the work should be sufficient motivation for professional achievement and success. However, in many respects, the psychological health of the individual and the financial health of the U.S. economy will require a fundamental shift in the values and motivations that most often motivate professional achievement in the United States.
Branden, N. (1985) Honoring the Self: The Psychology of Confidence and Respect. New York: Bantam
Einstein, a. (1954) Ideas and Opinions. New York: Crown
Lowenstein, R. (2007) Subprime Time: How Did Home Ownership Become So Rickety? New York Times Magazine; Sept. 2/07
Mills, C. (1953) White Collar: The American Middle Class. New York: Oxford University Press.
Russell, B. (1992) the Basic Writings of Bertrand Russell. (Edited by Egner & Denonn). London: Routledge
Stanley, T, Danko, W. (1996) the Millionaire Next Door: The Surprising Secrets of America's Wealthy. New York: Simon & Schuster