For the wealthiest kids in America, summer is a time of indulgence. As the Tumblr blog Rich Kids of Instagram shows, summer vacation means sunning yourself in the Hamptons, impromptu helicopter rides, Dom Perignon by the pool, and parking your boat inside your yacht.
Rich Kids of Instagram has been chronicling the lives of the young, rich and famous since 2012. The site reposts photos of conspicuous consumption that wealthy kids post on the photo sharing app Instagram. It allows kids to submit their own pictures, or write in to request that a picture be taken down. The blog has spawned two E! network reality shows — Rich Kids of New York and Rich Kids of Beverly Hills — as well as a book and various other products.
The blog has also sparked a lot of hilarious parodies.
#PoorkidsofInstagram shows kids selling beanie baby collections, drinking cheap beer, and spending their dollar bills (literally) on scratch-off Lottery tickets. Other accounts post parody photos under the hashtag #DistractieCuBaniPutini, meaning #LittleMoneyBigFun. One man, who has dubbed himself "Little Paris," takes hilarious photos of himself that are styled after the Instagram posts of heiress Paris Hilton.
Remember Christmas #distractiecubaniputini A photo posted by Little Paris Hilton (@littleparishilton) on
A photo posted by Little Paris Hilton (@littleparishilton) on
The appeal of “Rich Kids of Instagram” is mostly voyeurism — seeing the ridiculous closets, sports cars, private jets and extravagant parties that are just daily life to the kids of the one percent.
As the angry comments on the posts show, some people undoubtedly visit the blog to express their frustration with the excesses of the wealthy. In Mexico, photos and video that capture the lifestyles of the kids of wealthy officials have even sparked public outrage over inequality and political issues for parents.
But for most people, the appeal of Rich Kids of Instagram and blogs like it has to do with a fascination with how another social class lives, and how alien their lives seem to the rest of us.
Housesitting for the parents on this gorgeous day. by alexandra_marie22 #rkoi #richkidsofinstagram #blessed A photo posted by Rich Kids Of Instagram (@richkidsofinstagram) on
A photo posted by Cornel De Jager (@corneldejager) on
This is hardly a new preoccupation. From the champagne-fueled parties of "The Great Gatsby" to the '80s TV show "Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous," Americans have long been enthralled with wealth. And, occasionally, the U.S. has also fixed that same attention on the poor — for example, in "How the Other Half Lives," a photo book that documented poverty-stricken New York City tenements in 1890.
Today, the gap between the rich and poor in the U.S. is the widest it has been since the Great Depression. In fact, the U.S. is about as unequal today as the U.K. was during the class-centric time period of "Downton Abbey".
And while inequality may be one thing, it may not as much of a problem if folks have better chances of moving up in life. But the data show that it's now harder than ever for someone who is born poor to live out the American dream and climb to the top.
A college degree is increasingly necessary to make ends meet in the U.S: In 2012, those who graduated from high school only earned about 20 percent less than the median income. But data from the National Center for Education Statistics show that only about half of low-income students enrolled in college in 2012, compared with more than 80 percent of high-income students.
The difference between social classes looks even starker when it comes to graduation rates. According to a study by economists at the University of Michigan, 54 percent of the higher-income students who made it to college ultimately graduated, compared with only 9 percent of low-income students.
And even when a poor kid graduates from college, he or she is about as well-off as a wealthy kid who basically doesn't accomplish anything. As my colleague Matt O’Brien has written, a poor kid in the U.S. who works hard, gets lucky and graduates from college doesn’t statistically do that much better than a rich kid who drops out of high school. The chart below, recreated from a paper by economists Richard Reeves and Isabel Sawhill, shows that starkly.
People often think of education as an equalizer — that a degree can turn the child of a poor, single mother into a entrepreneur or a lawyer. But the data shows that education alone isn't enough.
With an edge on education, wealthy kids are disproportionately likely to grow up to direct companies, guide academic thinking, and make policy. But with rising income inequality has come a great sorting-out of social classes. Compared with mid-century America, the rich and poor today have more separate neighborhoods, school, social circles — even a different Internet.
Often, wealth in America is like a one-way mirror. The poor have plenty of channels to watch the rich through social and entertainment media. But the rich are increasingly isolated from lower classes.
Of course, the people profiled by the Rich Kids of Instagram are young, and many have a lot of growing up to do. But the blog still hints at how insulated the wealthiest Americans are from the rest of the country, and out of touch with what their wealth looks like to the rest of us.
A photo posted by Itsmenazoufromtheblack (@blackoptimum) on
A photo posted by kanelk_k (@kanelk_k) on
The blog begs the question of how well the rich and the poor in the U.S. really understand one another. As inequality rises to levels not seen since "The Great Gatsby," it's a gap that is more important than ever.
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