Keeping up with the Joneses

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Keeping up with the Joneses’ is an idiom in many parts of the English-speaking world referring to the comparison to one’s neighbor as a benchmark for social caste or the accumulation of material goods. To fail to ‘keep up with the Joneses’ is perceived as demonstrating socio-economic or cultural inferiority. The phrase was popularized when a comic strip of the same name was created by cartoonist Arthur R. ‘Pop’ Momand. The strip debuted in 1913, and ran in American newspapers for 26 years, and was eventually adapted into books, films, and musical comedies. The ‘Joneses’ of the title were neighbors of the strip’s main characters, and were unseen characters spoken of but never actually seen in person.

The philosophy of ‘keeping up with the Joneses’ has widespread effects on some societies. According to this philosophy, conspicuous consumption occurs when people care about their standard of living in relation to their peers. The term was re-coined or re-introduced into US narrative in 1976 when a small article was written about current parenting style. Social status once depended on one’s family name; however, the rise of consumerism in the United States gave rise to social mobility. With the increasing availability of goods, people became more inclined to define themselves by what they possessed and the subtle quest for higher status accelerated. The upward mobility over the past few decades in America is due in part to the large number of women joining the labor force.

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