I’ve long noticed that middle, working class and lower middle class families seem to care more about each other and show more empathy and generosity to each other than upper middle class and wealthy families, who often seem cold and unsupportive, even to their own. Many upper middle class families, including my own, seem to take the “sink or swim” attitude even to their own children. They refuse to offer either emotional or financial support when you fall on hard times. Their attitude is, each man or woman is an island and no one is responsible for you but yourself. They don’t seem to believe in lending a helping hand when one of their members falls down or is having difficulty. In fact, too many seem likely to kick that person when they’re down and blame the victim for their troubles. “Well, if she had only done this or that,” or “she never listened and this is what she gets,” or “well, she always made such poor choices.” If you’re not doing well, they seem embarrassed or ashamed of you and may even exclude or shun you.
In middle to lower-class families, there just seems to be more empathy and understanding and emotional support shown to other family members who are having difficulties. They seem more likely to listen without judging or shaming, and will even try to help financially when they can, even though they might not be able to afford to.
Of course, this isn’t an ironclad rule. There are many well to do families who are very emotionally supportive and empathic to one another, and may also give generously to charity. There are also many dysfunctional lower class families who treat other family members horribly. But the class differences in empathy is a pattern I’ve noticed, especially as someone who came from one of these cold as ice upper middle class families. I think narcissism runs rampant in the upper middle class even more than the truly wealthy, who are more secure in their status. In my own family (we were far from rich, but I suppose we were solidly upper middle class), I might as well have been an orphan, for all the “love and support” I got from them over the years. Now I’m a source of shame for most of them. Oh well, too bad. I feel like I’m a better person than they are because I don’t judge people based on their physical appearance, financial status, or job title. I look at what’s inside, or at least I try to.
I thought it was just me, but apparently there is empirical evidence that supports the idea that rich people are less empathic and care more about themselves while the less wealthy feel more like “we’re all in this together.” This article from NYMag.com explains the research behind this finding.
Rich People Literally See The World Differently
By Drake Baer, for NYmag.com
The way you view the world depends on the culture you come from — in a granular, second-by-second sense. If you present a Westerner and an East Asian with the same visual scene, for instance, the former is more likely to focus on individual objects, and the latter will likely take in more of the scene as a whole. East Asians are more holistic in their thinking, the research indicates; Westerners are more analytic.
The same thing is happening with people who are from the same country, but belong to different social classes. With America’s top one percent of earners earning 81 times the average of the bottom 50 percent, the research shows how the wealthy and the working classes really do live in different cultures, and thus see the world in different ways.
One of the most powerful examples come from Michael Varnum, a neuroscientist at Arizona State University. In a 2015 paper on empathy, he and his colleagues recruited 58 participants for a brain-imaging study: First, the participants filled out a self-report on their social class (level of parents’ education, family income, and the like) before sitting down for an EEG session. In the brain-imaging task, participants were shown neutral and pained faces while they were told to look for something else (the faces were a “distractor,” in the psych argot, so hopefully the participants wouldn’t know they were being tested for empathy).
Read the rest of this article here.