Affluenza

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What is 'Affluenza'

Affluenza is a social condition arising from the desire to be more wealthy or successful or to "keep up with the Joneses." Affluenza is symptomatic of a culture that holds up financial success as one of the highest achievements. People said to be affected by affluenza typically find the very economic success they have been so vigorously chasing ends up leaving them feeling unfulfilled and wishing for yet more wealth.

BREAKING DOWN 'Affluenza'

Proponents of affluenza theory stipulate that those affected often have trouble functioning in normal society and distinguishing between right and wrong, as the bubble of privilege in which they reside insulates them from understanding how the rest of the world works and developing empathy for those with more modest backgrounds.

Causes and Symptoms

Affluenza is most present in economically viable countries such as the United States, where the culture is one that prides itself on possessions and financial success. Mainstream media outlets, such as television broadcasts, tend to show how pervasive the idea has become. Those afflicted feel that money can buy happiness but often find the pursuit of wealth robs them of more happiness than is gained by financial success.

Further, in a society of growing income inequality, those with financial privilege are more likely to sequester themselves from the population at large. This social construct fosters a sense of entitlement that can be self-perpetuating, as the wealthy feel they have earned their way into that class with superior intellect or talent, and thus standard rules of society do not apply to them.

Symptoms of affluenza include myopic focus on work and earning money, strained personal relationships, depression, a self-image tied directly to financial status, and difficulty functioning in society or relating to others.

Examples of Affluenza

In December 2013, a Texas teenager who struck and killed four pedestrians while driving drunk was sentenced to 10 years of probation and zero jail time after his attorney successfully argued his affluent and privileged upbringing precluded his ability to understand the consequences of his actions.

In June 2016, a Stanford University swimmer convicted of sexually assaulting a female student on campus received a six-month jail sentence, of which he is expected to serve only half. While reading the sentence and justifying its leniency, the judge in the case cited the student's age and lack of criminal history, and also stated he felt a prison sentence "would have a severe impact on him." Critics allege this was an allusion to the student's wealth and sheltered upbringing, and the judge prioritized protecting the student's interests over ensuring justice was served.

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