Rich people really do act like jerks

I have written about how rich people often behave like jerks, such as ignoring the major role that luck played in getting them to where they are now and also drive arrogantly, as if they own the roads. These were largely impressionistic views, based on either my personal experience or reading about the behavior of others. So it was nice to come across this article that summarizes some studies that suggest that my impressions had some correspondence with reality.

Researchers at the University of California in Berkeley monitored motorist behaviour at a pedestrian crossing in California.

It is illegal for cars in California to not stop for a pedestrian at a zebra crossing but half of the drivers in expensive cars broke that law and didn’t stop for their fellow citizens who were waiting to cross the road.

Perhaps the most interesting thing in that survey is that the very oldest and least expensive vehicles were classified as ‘beater cars’ – In Ireland we would call them ‘bangers’.

Every single one of the people driving a banger stopped at the pedestrian crossing.

Another study looked at how people behaved during a game of Monopoly when the rules were heavily stacked in their favor so that the winner of the coin toss that determined the allocation of those privileges won easily.

You might expect the winner to be gracious in victory since they were afforded such a privileged starting position.

But the privileged players weren’t graceful at all, instead, they routinely bragged about their wealth and became fairly insufferable throughout the game.

Worse than that – after the game when they were asked why they think they won, most of them spoke of their brilliant tactics, their finesse at the game of monopoly and their daring moves.

This rigged game was played by more than a hundred different pairs and only a handful of the winners acknowledged that it was the flip of a coin that caused them to win the game. This was despite having been given incredible advantages over the other player.

This behavior mirrors how wealthy people in society ignore the importance of luck (especially the luck of birth) in their lives and think they are exceptionally skilled and gifted.

The author reports on other studies found wealthy people are more likely to lie and cheat and less likely to be generous towards those who are less fortunate.

It struck me there should be a word that captures the pleasure one feels when one comes across evidence that confirms one’s prejudices, similar to the word schadenfreude, the guilty pleasure felt at the misfortune of someone else. Maybe those who know other languages are aware of such a word.


  1. Sam N says


    Its connotation may be a bit strong for what you mean given its other, related, definition.

  2. Mano Singham says

    While ‘vindication’ definitely provides the sense of being shown to be right, it does not connote the pleasure one feels.

  3. file thirteen says

    While ‘vindication’ definitely provides the sense of being shown to be right, it does not connote the pleasure one feels.

    I actually think it does, somewhat. When people are vindicated, there is the implication that they are entitled to crow about it and others cannot argue back. There feels to be at least a connotation of satisfaction in that.

  4. DonDueed says

    I don’t think ‘schadenfreude’ necessarily implies guilty pleasure. In fact, it’s just plain old pleasure from others’ misfortune.

  5. jack19 says

    Wow, very informative article. I had never read about any research like this before. So in a nutshell, you really don’t want to have rich people as “friends.”

    As for the precise word you’re looking for, the closest thing I can think of is “gloating.” 😉

  6. file thirteen says


    The guilty aspect of schadenfreude is for those who join with others to show their horror at misfortune and/or sympathy for victims, but secretly can’t help feeling otherwise, even when they absolutely know it’s unfair to do so. I think that’s more the essence of schadenfreude than the satisfaction in a “they deserved the misfortune because they are a horrible person” attitude. The latter sentiment you wouldn’t hesitate to say out loud; the former, not so much.

  7. blf says

    The zebra crossings finding is the opposite of the “received wisdom” where I used to work in California. There was a nice salad bar, and also a good sushi restaurant, directly across a very busy street. The nearest marked crossing was a bit of a hike, and so people tended to take the lazy / dangerous route of jaywalking across the street for lunch. The “received wisdom” was that is was better to step out in front of an oncoming expensive car because (1) The driver was more like to be aware of the consequences of hitting a pedestrian, and (2) Had better brakes.

    As far as I can now recall, no-one was ever hit (regardless of the model of approaching car). And, of course, people waited until there was a plausible gap in the traffic to dart half-way across, and then waited again to cross the other half of the road. Also, the electric light at the junction with the nearest legal crossing meant that there usually was a suitable gap, if one was patient.

  8. lorn says

    Unearned entitlement.

    People who are used to power and wealth are used to having their way.

    In the Monopoly case it just shows that most people, people who are not used to having wealth and power, Like to enjoy playing the part than they have experienced from the other side.

    A bit from personal experience. Working in repairs and construction maintenance is was always the wealthy people who would resist paying their bills the most. Typical: If they owe $1800 they plead ‘liquidity problems’ , after months of planning beforehand, and make a $900 payment with an assurance they will cover the rest by the end of the week. They, of course, forget about it and you need to show up at their door where they claim ‘unforeseen’ costs and offer $450. Every time you have to track them down, listen to some BS story, and accept half of whatever is actually owed. Is it worth it making four phone calls and driving across town a couple of times for the last $50? They wear you down. Often getting a substantial discount.

    The alternative is to take them to court, pay a lawyer, get a settlement, learn that all their assets are in one of their relatives name and realize that you just paid thousands in legal fees to get a piece of paper that is entirely meaningless. That the bill will never get paid.

    Of course, as with Trump, the reason he got out of the construction side is that the contractors share information and learn about how their bills will be handled. If they will be paid only half without problems the contractors simply double the price, and/or demand payments up front.

    With poorer people it is simpler. They are usually quite up front that they don’t have much money but can make payments. So you get your $1800 but it takes 18 payments of $100. In one case an older woman living on Social Security would pay $20 every month. She would walk the dirt road to the shop the first weekday of the month, ring the doorbell, and hand over a crisp $20 bill. It took a while but there was no BS, or having to track them down.

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