Your iPhone or iPad probably indicates you’re well off


Just by looking at her with an iPad tells you there's a good chance she's well off.
Photo: Pad & Quill

Researchers investigating differences between groups of Americans have an interesting observation: owning an iOS device is the best indicator that someone is in one of the top income brackets. Even better than using Grey Poupon.

They are trying to discover whether rich and poor, white and minority, men and women have less in common now than they did in the past. Studying the products they buy is part of this process.

An iPad means you’re doing well

“Knowing whether someone owns an iPad in 2016 allows us to guess correctly whether the person is in the top or bottom income quartile 69 percent of the time. Across all years in our data, no individual brand is as predictive of being high-income as owning an Apple iPhone in 2016,” wrote Marianne Bertrand and Emir Kamenica from the University of Chicago’s Booth School of Business.

The researchers are looking for cultural differences between different economic levels. That said, “We of course acknowledge that some of the differences in consumer behavior between the rich and the poor reflect differences in budgets rather than differences in anything that we should call culture.”

And it’s unusual for something as expensive as a smartphone to be the main indicator. “The brand most predictive of top income in 1992 is Grey Poupon Dijon mustard. By 2004, the brand most indicative of the rich is Land O’Lakes butter,” wrote Bertrand and Emir Kamenica.

Sometimes, the better educated also choose Apple. “Having bought Kodak film, owning Windows XP, and owning an Apple iPhone are most informative about someone’s education in 1994, 2005, and 2016,” the researchers indicated.

Not what you think

It’s a common assumption that America is more divided than ever before. Not according to this study.

“The results overall refute the hypothesis of growing cultural divides. With few exceptions, the extent of cultural distance has been broadly constant over time,” concluded Bertrand and Emir Kamenica.

Their paper, “Coming Apart? Cultural Distances in the United States over Time“, is available from the Booth School of Business.


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