It’s difficult (and generally not all that productive) to guess how wealthy someone is based on appearances. But if you really need a shorthand to figure out if someone is rich or not, a new study suggests all you need to do is see what kind of phone they own. If it’s an iPhone, odds are they’re doing well for themselves.
That little tidbit for on-the-fly evaluations of a stranger’s bank account comes from economists at the University of Chicago, who recently published a paper with the National Bureau of Economic Research highlighting how consumer behaviour and media consumption can infer demographic information. As it turns out, the iPhone is a pretty consistent symbol of wealth.
Of course, owning an iPhone doesn’t mean that a person is rich, but the device serves as the most reliable indicator for determining if someone falls into a higher income bracket. “Across all years in our data, no individual brand is as predictive of being high-income as owning an Apple iPhone in 2016,” the researchers wrote, per Business Insider.
That data showed that owning an iPhone gave the researchers a 69 percent change to correctly identify the owner as “high-income,” which was defined in the paper as being in the top quartile of income for the person’s household type (single, married, with dependents, etc.).
There are, of course, some caveats to this. While new iPhones often carry a hefty price tag when they aren’t subsidised by a carrier, there are plenty of older iPhones still in circulation. Last year, prior to the launch of the iPhone X and iPhone 8, research firm Newzoo looked at all iPhones in circulation and found that the majority of the devices in user were the most recent model. At the time, the iPhone 7 line accounted for 19 percent of all devices in the wild. The remaining 81 percent ranged from the iPhone 6s dating all the way back to the iPhone 4, which was released in 2010.
For all the (mostly deserved) shit Apple took for throttling the processing power on older devices in order to preserve battery life, the company is actually pretty good at continuing to support its older phones. The current version of Apple’s mobile operating system, iOS 11, supports five different generations of handsets dating back to the iPhone 5S, released in 2013. When iOS 12 comes out later this year, it will continue support for all of those generations of devices — plus whatever phone the company announces in the autumn.
Still, if you’re looking for a shortcut to place a person in into a demographic based on income, look for the Apple logo. (Smartphone ownership, in general, was an indicator of “high-income” per the research, as owning an Android phone or having Verizon as a carrier also served as somewhat reliable indicators of determining a person’s wealth. Pew Research reported last year that 64 percent of low-income Americans own a smartphone.)
The piece of information that is perhaps most interesting from the paper is how quickly the iPhone became a status symbol, and what it has replaced. In 1992, the most reliable indicator of a high-income individual was owning an automatic dishwasher or a telephone answering machine. In 2004, buying a new car or owning a personal computer were some of the top markers of wealth. [9to5Mac, Business Insider, National Bureau of Economic Research]
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