Money can’t buy you happiness, economists find. Inhabitants of wealthy countries tend to grow more miserable as their economy grows richer, according to research.
Economists Curtis Eaton and Mukesh Eswaran found that while the richest people, such as footballers and bankers, could perk themselves up with a new pair of designer shoes or a sophisticated mobile phone.
However, the bulk of the population who were unable to afford the latest status symbols were left unhappier by their inability to keep up.
As countries become wealthier, more value is attached to objects which are not strictly necessary for comfortable living, the researchers claim.
People are then drawn into keeping up with the Joneses which results in less happiness for those who cannot afford the newest “must-have” items even if their wealth has increased.
The nation’s sense of “community and trust” can then be damaged which, in turn, can affect the wider economy, the experts argued.
Prof Eaton, of the University of Calgary, and Prof Eswaran, of the University of British Columbia, concluded that, beyond the point of reasonable affluence, greater riches can make a nation collectively worse off.
In their research, published in the Economic Journal, they said: “These goods represent a ‘zero-sum game’ for society: they satisfy the owners, making them appear wealthy, but everyone else is left feeling worse off.
“Conspicuous consumption can have an impact not only on people’s well-being but also on the growth prospects of the economy.”
The Canadian research follows in the footsteps of the 19th century Norwegian-American economist Thorstein Veblen.
Prof Veblen coined the term “conspicuous consumption” and said it was a method by which people seek to set themselves apart.