During the shift toward status-striving of the past 30-odd years, there have been two huge changes in the way that services are performed. One is to Do It Yourself, the other is to Pay Someone Else. At the level of outsourcing vs. doing something in-house, these two are opposites, so there must be a unifying common theme at a higher level. That's where the link to status-striving lies.
Where have people increasingly opted for the DIY "solution"?
Home improvement — beyond simple maintenance and repairs, homeowners now remodel and build additions. They are also inclined to build their own furniture and fashion their own small decorations.
Specialty mechanics and electronics — modding your car, modding your computer or video game console or phone (perhaps tinkering with the hardware, but usually futzing around with software settings). "Developing" your own digital image captures (hours of dicking around in Photoshop), repairing your own intricate camera and lenses ("a little WD-40 ought to silence that squeaking..."), and photographing something complicated and important. Putting together a full mechanics' workshop in the garage.
Health — except for major trauma, diagnosing and treating malaise or illness is now done through researching a bit online, then drawing up a list of the right mix of foods, vitamins, supplements, and pills. Faddish psychobabble therapies can be added if the pain is mostly emotional.
These services require years of acquired knowledge, experience, and skills, not to mention tools and materials that are relatively expensive, hard to find, and difficult to understand and use. They are done — or used to be done — by artisans and professionals, and confer status on the DIY-ers.
What about the trend toward Pay Someone Else?
Child-rearing — daycare workers, nannies, school teachers (substitute mothers), and coaches and tutors of varying specialties (substitute fathers) now perform most of the day-to-day and face-to-face activities of raising children. That's in addition to parking your kids in front of a glowing media screen, an even more flagrant form of outsourcing your parenting duties.
Meal cooking — hardly anyone makes home-cooked meals anymore, which come instead from fast food chains, microwave meals, and already prepared meals / hot bar items at the supermarket.
Housekeeping and yard work — women who sweep, vacuum, clean counters, and scrub toilets and showers, as well as men who ride lawnmowers and aim leafblowers.
These services are unskilled and require the use of tools and materials that are cheap, plentiful, and simple to use. Their main input is labor (time and effort), so they would subtract status if the Pay-Someone-Elsers were to do it themselves.
The psychology is easy to understand. Status-strivers want to do the professional work themselves, to reap the benefits of branding themselves as artisans. They shed the status deadweight of unskilled work through outsourcing, even if it means neglecting their familial duties.
There are far broader implications for the economy, though, not just changes in how annoyingly grandiose and shamefully neglectful your fellow neighbors, co-workers, and citizens have become.
The DIY movement has wiped out the number of man-hours that could have been done by true artisans and skilled workers, and lowered the asking price of the labor they can still sell to customers, who now expect dirt-cheap services since "I could always just do it myself, y'know." If the service proves too complicated to DIY, the customer will just opt for replacement rather than repair (fueling planned obsolescence). That eliminates the once common fix-it shops as a way of making a living.
The Pay Someone Else movement has swollen the number of man-hours going into unskilled labor, which is already low-paying, offering little to no benefits, temporary / high-turnover, and uncertain job security.
The outcome is widening inequality, as skilled jobs are replaced by unskilled. We usually associate that with heartless managers of large companies decomposing a skilled task into separate rote tasks through mechanization. But here we see just how deep the rot goes — even ordinary individual consumers are such self-regarding skinflints that skilled tradesmen must debase themselves into unskilled laborers in order to satisfy the status-enhancing lifestyles of today's middle class.
Sure, skilled artisans can still find work with the top-top-top level elite, whose budgets are unlimited and who are more inclined toward conspicuous leisure. But that's not a large market. It was the middle class market for skilled services that used to support an electronics repair shop, photography studio, and carpenter's workshop.
Unlike the decadent and parasitic elite, the middle class actually produces for a living, and can't indulge so much in conspicuous leisure. So, conspicuous consumption it is. Middle-class folks have never been more profligate with their disposable income, loans, and credit — yet they would take it as a personal defeat to have to hire a carpenter to remodel their cabinets. All that status item spending has drained the portion of their income that could have gone toward skilled services and production.
After all, why by one good pair of shoes made by skilled Americans when you can buy five pairs made by unskilled Salvadoreans? Owning a single pair of shoes prevents you from participating in the fashion treadmill. So does owning a single professionally made dishwasher for 30 years — if the workers are barely skilled and their product breaks down every five years, that's just an opportunity to UPGRADE DAT SHIT and impress your friends. For status-strivers, crummy products are the gift that keeps on giving.