We recently posted about an ad for internet service that used the metaphor of a prostitute.  It/she was “fast” and “cheap” with “satisfaction guaranteed.”  We also recently posted about national personifications, fictional or semi-fictional people used to represent countries.  This ad campaign, submitted by Mary S., has both.

Victoria, a city in British Columbia, is personified as “Victoria,” the sex worker.  “Victoria’s cheap,” the ad reads, “but she’ll show you a great time.”  The larger message, of course, is that places are like women and women are like places.  They are experiences to purchase and consume, preferably cheaply.

UPDATE: Some in the comments have suggested that I cropped the ad to make my point.  So here is the whole front page of the website,

Lisa Wade, PhD is an Associate Professor at Tulane University. She is the author of American Hookup, a book about college sexual culture; a textbook about gender; and a forthcoming introductory text: Terrible Magnificent Sociology. You can follow her on Twitter and Instagram.

Bundle presents the following infographic detailing how much people in various U.S. cities spend restaurants and groceries (some highlights below): The average household in the U.S. spends 37% of its food and drink budget in restaurants. In Hialeah, Florida, 69% of food and drink spending is spent on groceries instead of dining out; the largest proportion of spending in eating in. Atlanta is on the other side of the spectrum, with 57% of the food budget spent at restaurants. Households in Austin spend the most on food ($12,447) with more than half of that spent dining out. In contrast, people in Detroit spend the least ($2,246), As the graphic notes, “five average Detroit households can eat on one Austinite’s food budget.” On average, in U.S. households 17% of spending goes towards food and drink. The largest proportion of spending allocated towards food and drink is found in Denver (22%), but my city, Los Angeles, is not far behind (21%). Hat tip to Flowing Data.

Lisa Wade, PhD is an Associate Professor at Tulane University. She is the author of American Hookup, a book about college sexual culture; a textbook about gender; and a forthcoming introductory text: Terrible Magnificent Sociology. You can follow her on Twitter and Instagram.

Thanks to Raluca-Elena, I am now disturbed to discover that the makers of heelarious, fake high heels for infant girls, are now selling teethers in the shape of a credit card with the name “Ima Spender.” Get it?

Let’s train those girls to consume above their means before they even get their first teeth!

Okay okay, infants aren’t going to get the joke. But why is it so funny to encourage infant girls to grow up to be shallow, gold digging, divas?  Or is this me stereotyping the high-fashion-conscious?

Lisa Wade, PhD is an Associate Professor at Tulane University. She is the author of American Hookup, a book about college sexual culture; a textbook about gender; and a forthcoming introductory text: Terrible Magnificent Sociology. You can follow her on Twitter and Instagram.

While I was at my grandma’s house this week I read Buying In: What We Buy and Who We Are, a fascinating book by Rob Walker. There will be more posts to come in the next few weeks, but for starters, I was struck by the results of a 2006 survey Walker mentions by the Pew Research Center. The survey asked people if various items were luxuries or necessities. Here are the results from 2006 and 1996:

Clearly, over time we’re defining more and more items as necessities rather than luxuries:

A breakdown of some results by age:

If I had to guess, I’d think the fact that younger people are less likely to say a TV is a necessity than older people is due not to less concern about TV but more willingness to watch content online. Does that seem reasonable? Other explanations?

The survey found that the higher a person’s income, the more items they define as a necessity:

The biggest differences by income were for dishwashers, cell phones, computers, and high-speed internet, which are more likely to be defined as a necessity as income increases.

The Pew Center’s website has links to more detailed breakdowns, as well as full info on the question wording, methodology, etc. And as the authors say in the summary, the results show only a one-way change: in no case did they find that the overall percent defining something as a necessity decreased between 1996 and 2006. As they put it,

The old adage proclaims that “necessity is the mother of invention.” These findings serve as a reminder that the opposite is also true: invention is the mother of necessity. Throughout human history, from the wheel to the computer, previously unimaginable inventions have created their own demand, and eventually their own need.

The income data would seem to back this up: what we have, we often come to define as necessities.

I would love to see an international comparison of some sort. I’ll see what I can find.

UPDATE: I haven’t found an international comparison yet, but I discovered that the Pew Research Center conducted the survey again in 2009 to see if attitudes had changed during the recession. Quite a striking change for several items:


Dmitriy T.M. and Andrew L. sent a link to a collection of post-World War I men’s magazine covers. They are a window into a time when being a man was clearly a very distinct achievement, but much less related to consumption than it is today.

Today’s men’s magazines emphasize control over oneself and the conquest of women, as do these vintage magazines, but instead of tests of strength, cunning, and fighting ability, they emphasize conquest through consumption. The message is to consume the right exercise, the right products (usually hygiene or tech-related), the right advice on picking up women and, well, the right women. In contrast, these old magazines pit man against nature or other men; consumption has not yet colonized the idea of masculinity.

View a selection of the covers at The Art of Manliness.

Lisa Wade, PhD is an Associate Professor at Tulane University. She is the author of American Hookup, a book about college sexual culture; a textbook about gender; and a forthcoming introductory text: Terrible Magnificent Sociology. You can follow her on Twitter and Instagram.

In this video they posted at Feministing, Chloe and Samhita discuss Sex and the City 2. Enjoy!

With tax season upon us, it is almost obligatory for Americans to complain about what they’re shelling out to Uncle Sam. According to Gallup polls, 46 percent of Americans think their taxes are too high.

The good news is that figure is near rock-bottom for the past 50 years; the bad news is that tax-related violence has been on the rise for the same period. The most recent example of this trend occurred last month, when software engineer Joe Stack, enraged by disputes with the Internal Revenue Service going back to the 1980s, flew a small plane into an IRS building in Texas.

In a lengthy essay/suicide note posted on his website, Stack styled himself after the early American patriots of “no taxation without representation” fame, reminding us all of the unique prestige of tax revolt in American history. As Stack points out, some of the first lessons American children receive about their nation’s history equates taxes to oppression, and revolt against those taxes to the struggle for liberty and justice for all. This probably contributes to Americans’ widespread distrust of taxation, and the acceptance of that distrust as normal and natural.

But that view of taxation is not shared worldwide. In fact, citizens of some countries are actually happy about paying taxes. If you’re an American reading these words, that statement probably sounds pretty far-fetched. But consider this: the citizens of Denmark pay the highest income taxes in the world (an average of 48.3 percent), and are also the happiest people in the world.

It’s not just that Danes pay those high income taxes: they also pay a Value Added Tax of 25 percent on every cup of coffee or pair of sneakers they buy, making the outcry in my hometown of Chicago over having the highest sales tax of any major city in the US (a whopping 10.25 percent) look picayune by comparison. And then there’s Denmark’s tax on new cars: a heart-stopping 180 percent. So if you buy a car with an MSRP of € 20,000 , you’ll pay an additional € 36,000 to get the car registered and licensed.

The Danish car tax, in and of itself, would probably be enough to provoke armed rebellion in the United States. So why do the citizens of Denmark not only tolerate the array of taxes they pay, but appear downright happy about them?

And just to be clear, Danes aren’t just generally happy, or happy despite the taxes they pay. Rather, they are specifically happy about paying taxes! Take this exchange, for example, from a recent series of “person in the street” interviews from Copenhagen by United States National Public Radio:

KESTENBAUM [Ed—NPR reporter]: You think paying taxes is terrific?

Ms. BAUOLASON [Ed—resident of Copenhagen]: I do actually think it is terrific.

From an American perspective, Denmark “seems to violate the laws of the economic universe.”

The key to this attitude seems to lie in Danes’ trust in government and each other—something I noted in an earlier post. As this video interview with a pair of Danish sociologists suggests, this trust stems from several factors. Among the most important is the widely-shared belief that their society is just, and that socio-economic goods are equitably distributed. As a result, many Danes seem satisfied that they are getting their money’s worth–that is, they enjoy tangible benefits of the taxes they pay in terms of universal health care, tuition-free education through the university level, and employment benefits and security far beyond anything available in the United States.

Meanwhile, things could not be more different in the United States, which ranks 23rd in the world happiness rankings, and where distrust of government has been virtually axiomatic since the Reagan era—if not before. This helps account for a paradox: while the United States has among the lowest income tax rates in the world, and we have nothing like the VAT and auto registration taxes that Danes pay, Americans rarely challenge each others’ complaints about “high taxes.”

In fact, one of the remarkable things about Joe Stack’s anti-tax rant/suicide note is how much it resembles what now constitutes “mainstream” rhetoric on taxation in America—particularly in the aftermath of the government bailout of financial firms following the 2008 economic crisis.

Stack wrote:

Why is it that a handful of thugs and plunderers can commit unthinkable atrocities (and in the case of the GM executives, for scores of years) and when it’s time for their gravy train to crash under the weight of their gluttony and overwhelming stupidity, the force of the full federal government has no difficulty coming to their aid within days if not hours?

Compare this to CNBC newsman Rick Santelli’s now legendary on-air rant of February 2009, in which he sounds many of the same notes as Stack, using virtually identical arguments and references to American history:

So while Stack’s violent actions took this rhetoric to the extreme, the evidence suggests that he was no outlier in his  perspective on taxation in America: his basic views are apparently shared by a wide swath of his fellow citizens, from television news reporters to the Tea Party movement to think tanks like the conservative Cato Institute.

What accounts for this extreme disparity between American and Danish attitudes toward taxes? And what does this have to do with the differences between the two countries in terms of happiness?

The evidence suggests that both phenomena stem from perceptions of fairness. While—as the two video interviews from Denmark suggest—many Danes believe that they benefit personally from their tax contributions, the rhetoric of people like Stack, Santelli and others suggest that many Americans believe they get little to nothing in return for their tax contributions. Instead, they believe their taxes benefit the “free riders” in US society—whether conceived as “welfare queens” at the bottom of the socio-economic ladder, or as corporations and executives at the top.

Thus, Stack signed off with this bitter epigram: “The capitalist creed: From each according to his gullibility, to each according to his greed.” For him, it was a bitterness unto death; for like-minded Americans, these beliefs contribute to a sense of pervasive injustice that frustrates their “pursuit of happiness” and makes April 15 a day of national resentment rather than a simple administrative deadline.


Brooke Harrington is Associate Professor of Economic Sociology at the Copenhagen Business School. She is the author of two books: “Pop Finance: Investment Clubs and the New Investor Populism” (Princeton University Press, 2008) and “Deception: From Ancient Empires to Internet Dating” (Stanford University Press, 2009). She is currently doing research on offshore banking.  Harrington blogs at our fellow Contexts blog, Economic Sociology.

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O.S. sent in this neat video found at Flowing Data that illustrates the spread of Wal-Mart and Sam’s Club stores across the U.S. since the early 1960s: