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The Rich Really Are Different From the Rest of Us


The differences between the rich and the poor go beyond their pocketbooks. The psychology of the rich is different than the psychology of the poor. The big question might be, are they born or made?

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Education Shapes Choice

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Education plays a major role in building wealth. It is also a cycle; the more education parents have, the more money they make, the more they can afford to help pay for a good education for their children. The children are well-educated, make more money, and the cycle continues.

The parents’ values and outlook on life also shape the child. An interesting study at Northwestern University examined different choice-making strategies among the working poor and the well-educated. High school educated, working adults were asked to choose a pen from a large supply of pens. These individuals were most likely to choose a pen that looked like the other pens. College and graduate level educated individuals, however, were most likely to choose the most unique, different pen.

Another difference in the psychology of the rich and poor is desire to choose for ourselves. In a related experiment, individuals were given a pen as a gift. High school educated, less wealthy participants were quite happy with the gift. Better educated, wealthier participants were disappointed that they could not choose a pen for themselves.

These studies looked at both education and wealth. The combination of the two separated how people make decisions; the poor are more likely to want to blend in with others, while the rich preferred to be unique.


While the rich may be more comfortable having a unique flair, unfortunately, some studies suggest they lack empathy. For example, a study in California showed that drivers of the most expensive cars defied the law and did not stop for pedestrians in the crosswalk, while drivers of more common cars obeyed the law and waited for pedestrians to cross the street.

Another study entailed researchers informing adults with different levels of wealth that a dish of candy was intended for children, but they were welcome to take some. Guess who chose to help themselves to the childrens’ candy? The rich. The less wealthy preferred to leave the candy for the children to enjoy.

The psychology of the rich does seem to be different from the psychology of the rest of us. In general, evidence suggests the very rich prefer being different, prefer deciding things for themselves, feel entitled, and lack the amount of empathy that others possess.

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