Psychological Price of Affluence, Bay Area Licensed Psychologists
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The Psychological Price of Affluence

By Megan Sutsko, Psy.D. Licensed Psychologist

Dr. Megan Sutsko

A recent trend in social media has users following their statuses or captions with funny self-deprecating hashtags. Examples are,  “My PureBarre class was cancelled #whitegirlproblems” or “iphone contacts deleted! #firstworldproblems.” The assumption is that when upper class Americans complain, their worries are really minimal compared to those with “real” problems. What could financially privileged families and individuals really have to complain about anyway?

Well, as far as mental health is concerned, there is actually scientifically supported research that has found that the wealthiest families in our nation have some of the most at-risk children and teenagers in terms of anxiety, depression, and substance abuse. This is even when they are compared with children of families in poverty (Luthar, 2003).  There are many very powerful and potentially harmful trends that follow both the adults and children within this socioeconomic group, some of which I will outline below.

family drawing material possessionsAnother interesting fact is that research on happiness finds that people become happier the more money they make only until a certain threshold is reached. Once basic security for an individual and his/her family has been achieved, more money is actually associated with a DECREASE in happiness (Csikszentimihalyi, 1999).

How can this be?

At Rice Psychology we often see the anecdotal evidence of what can go wrong when money is no object. Material items being substitutes for quality time together; hired help being paid to raise children while parents pursue their work, passions, and pastimes; children and teens reaching adulthood having no concept of how to earn their own keep or how to take care of themselves; overworked and overstressed parents and kids. These individuals and families often feel an unconscious reluctance to seek out mental health support when needed because “we have nothing to complain about.”

There are many authors who have theorized about what can go wrong in affluent families. This is a summary of their most prominent ideas:

1)      Parental or Individual factors

  • The Type-A personalities that breed success in business often have difficulty with the flexibility and compromise required for appropriate parenting.
  • Parents in this bracket can afford to pay for help with the children and frequent vacations. They therefore spend less time with their children.
  • Stay at home wives/mothers of powerful men often feel unfulfilled.
  • Affluent parents work long hours and have unrealistically high expectations for themselves and their children.
  • These parents have fewer natural limits so they have to work harder to create limits for their kids.

2)      Community factors

  • The geographical makeup of affluent communities (large gated homes with land) is not conducive to high neighborhood involvement.
  • People that are able to outsource and pay for help rely less on their friends and neighbors and therefore do not form as deep a bond with their social supports.
  • The competition in “keeping up with the Jonses” can be very toxic.
  • Affluent communities are often vilified by others. “Wealthism” is very real and describes the anger that other socio economic groups feel towards the affluent.

3)      Child factors

  • Children raised with changing caregivers (or nannies) can develop problems with attachment.
  • The emphasis on academic success and achievement in general is daunting. Scheduling is often out of control and leaves no time for “down time.”
  • These children feel they cannot live up to the standards their high achieving parents have set. They often feel like “phonies.”
  • Children who grow up in affluence often express feelings of emptiness because they have had things handed to them their entire lives.
  • These children tend to have fewer limits and have the money to obtain drugs and often can buy themselves out of trouble.

It is important for anyone in this socioeconomic bracket to be aware of these potential pitfalls. It is equally important that healthcare providers working with this group be not only aware, but actively engage these families one how to manage these very specific challenges.

This is what we strive to do here at Rice Psychology Group. If you have questions or need help with this or any other challenge, please contact us at 813-969-3878.


If you are interested in reading more about this topic, I recommend the following books:

“The Price of Privilege,” Madeline Levine, Ph.D.

“Children of Fast Track Parents,” Andree Aelioin Brooks

“The Golden Ghetto,” Jessie H. O’Neill




About Rice Psychology

Rice Psychology Group is home to a team of psychologists who work tirelessly to help adults, adolescents and children deal with their issues. Whether you’re currently dealing with depression, going through a divorce or fighting an issue you just can’t understand, know that our Tampa psychologists are here to help.

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