Affluenza is the social condition that comes from one’s innate desire, need, or want to be wealthier and more successful by societal standards. Affluenza promotes a culture where accumulating wealth and having intense materialistic values are considered to be among the highest achievements one can dream of. People impacted by affluenza often feel that they have a right to be superior to others around due to their higher intellect or talent.

The term affluenza is also attributed to a situation where people don’t understand the repercussions of their actions because they have a higher social status than others or are economically better off than others. 

An overview

Affluenza is derived from combining two words – ‘affluence’ and ‘influenza’. Affluence refers to wealth and influenza refers to infection. It is a condition where an individual always wants more wealth no matter how much they already have. People who advocate this condition say that people who are impacted by affluenza live assuming that money will buy them joy and happiness. 

This condition affects people in such a way that even if they achieve the goals they are working towards, it will still leave them dissatisfied. This dissatisfaction comes from a place of always wanting to have more than what they have or have achieved. 

Common behaviors

Even though these people think that money and wealth can bring them happiness, this joy is often subdued by their dissatisfaction and their want to have more. This leaves them in a constant state of lack and desire. Individuals affected by affluenza also find it tough to live in a normal society. Since they are wealthy, they tend to think of themselves as superior to others. This brings about a mentality of privilege and entitlement. 

Hence, they are unable to distinguish between right and wrong and are not able to understand the impact their actions have on the society in which they live. They seem to live perpetually oblivious to the consequences of their choices and actions. This separates them from the rest of society, making them unempathetic to other people from modest backgrounds. 

People impacted by affluenza often feel that they have a right to be superior to others due to their higher intellect or talent. This can propagate a false sense of entitlement which alienates them from the rest of the community they live in. Due to this, they feel that societal rules and laws don’t apply to them. 

Affluenza in the United States of America 

The United States, being an economically forward and viable country, is ripe with affluenza. Although the concept of the American dream is what has drawn people to the country and still continues to do so, there is no denying that there is a strong sense of individualism prevalent throughout the nation. 

Even though opportunities to grow and accumulate wealth are available in plenty and equally to all individuals irrespective of their social and familial background, it has been proven that the socioeconomic class one is born in has a bearing on the social status an individual achieves. Research has shown that it is much easier for a person to become affluent if they already come from an affluent family. 

But sometimes, not every part of society is influenced by the societal status and income of the previous generation. A study done by Stanford found that there was a lower relationship between income and parents for females than for males. A possible explanation for this is that women may work less if their husbands earn a very high income. 

Affluenza and the media 

Affluenza is a social condition. As such, it has received a lot of attention in various television shows and books. The condition has also been used in criminal trials as a self-defense measure. Here are a few cases in which the term affluenza has been used in court. 

A female student from Stanford University was sexually assaulted by a university swimmer in 2016. The swimmer was convicted of the crime and sentenced to 6 months in jail. The judge, while trying to justify the shortness of the sentence, said that the defendant’s mental health would be severely impacted by a lengthy jail term. Critics say that the student’s background of a sheltered life and being wealthy influenced the outcome of the sentence. 

A Texas teenager killed four pedestrians in a drunk driving case in 2013. He was sentenced to 10 years of probation. This was given on the basis of his attorney’s argument that since the accused was wealthy and privileged, his upbringing did not make him aware of the consequences of his actions. 

Affluenza and the transmission of advantage 

One of the biggest reasons for the propagation of affluenza as a societal condition is the ‘transmission of advantage’. It includes the connection between wages and education. People who are richer are more likely to be educated and have college degrees. They become role models for their kids who, in turn, are more likely to attend colleges and get degrees themselves. 

These parents also have the financial means to put their children in better schools. Kids who have college degrees have a much better chance of earning high incomes compared to those who don’t. as per surveys, the number of affluent kids who went on to get college degrees was more than 10 ten times that of kids from low-income families. 

Another aspect that helps propagate affluenza is generational wealth. The transmission of assets through savings, life insurance, stocks, homes, etc., helps the next generation achieve success much faster than others. The income gap between lower and higher-income groups is growing wider at an alarming rate since the incomes of the middle-income group are reducing.

How to avoid affluenza

 Affluenza has not been officially diagnosed nor will it ever be since it is not a disorder in itself. It has more to do with environmental and circumstantial factors that create this abnormal behavior in the wealthy. But there are a number of steps that parents can take to make sure their kids don’t get impacted by affluenza. Here are a few tips that may help nurture children in the right way: 

Start the learning process at young age: Most of what children learn is from watching their parents. The habits and practices they observe in their formative years stay with them for a lifetime. So, it’s strange that most parents expose their children to money and its value only late in their teens. The sooner you start teaching them the value of money, the sooner they will start practicing it as well. Teach them the importance of hard work and building savings. Be their role model in building wealth over time and by carefully using money rather than unscrupulously spending it. 

Teach kids to handle money wisely: The best way to make sure your kids don’t become affluent is to teach them the value of money. When they understand what it feels like and means to earn money rather than spending what they inherit, they will learn to be more prudent. A good way to start is to start bank accounts for them. Any money they get as gifts can be deposited into them and they can operate the accounts for their needs. This way, they will learn to budget money for the things they want to buy because they know they don’t have an endless supply. 

Don’t help them out all the time: Learning to use money wisely includes making mistakes and learning from them. And when they do make mistakes or run out of money because they’ve spent it all on unnecessary purchases, don’t give them more. If you help them out all the time, your kids will never learn the importance of fending for themselves. If they run out of cash ahead of time, they have to wait till the next period comes by. 

Encourage them to work: Just as much as kids need to study and get an education, they should also know the value of working and earning your own money. Start them off with extra household chores. The more they do, the more they earn. As they grow older, they can start babysitting or picking up a shift or two at the nearby store to earn some money. This will help cultivate an ethic of working to earn a living and to use money prudently. 


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