November 4, 2019

From status contests over wealth, to lifestyles, to personas, as each generation gets poorer

Related to this thought from our anti-woke Left princess:

Five years ago I detailed the generational structure of status contests, where Boomers competed over material wealth and careerism, but after they had saturated that niche, the Gen X-ers had to find a new niche to compete within. They chose lifestyle contests instead, which don't require nearly as much money as material possession contests.

In a follow-up post, I detailed the invention of persona contests among the Millennials, who don't even have enough money to properly pursue lifestyle contests. Crafting your persona and projecting it into the public arena for competition only requires time, effort, and enough money for wifi to connect you to social media.

The "currency" of status has gone from material wealth, to lifestyle points, to persona points. But within each niche, most people are hyper-competitive pigs struggling to over-feed themselves at the trough. Within each domain there is an over-production of aspiring elites, leading to maximum chaos and fragmentation.

And within each niche, if you rob the competitor of their "currency," they take that as a mortal threat. Millennials don't care if you take their wealth, since they have none and don't compete over that resource. But if you threatened their persona on social media, let alone got their account suspended, that's the end of the world to them. Banned from competing in the persona-construction status contest.

You can use Google to search this blog for other posts on the topic, using "lifestyle strivers," "persona striving," etc. One of the more original and insightful projects I've undertaken, if I do say so myself.

Each of these qualitative shifts began at the grassroots level among individuals whose overweening ambition required an outlet. It's only after that groundswell that business owners capitalized on the development -- they did not invent the trend and get customers hooked on it. Most professionals and owners are too lazy and incurious to invent anything, they just chase after popular trends for as long as they seem profitable.

What will it take for individuals to dial down their overweening ambition and hyper-competitiveness? Material conditions must get so disastrous, and the fabric of society torn apart, that they realize where the worship of competition leads -- to their own destruction. Only then will they adopt the opposite norms, based on humility and harmony, leading to more egalitarian material outcomes.

Obviously we all wish you could just tell people where it has always led, and will lead again this time, but those words are just pointless speculation to the hyper-competitive striver. They need to get their block knocked off before it feels real to them. See Peter Turchin's work on the dynamics of ideology and material outcomes, linked in the first post above.


  1. Great post! A few questions:
    (1) would a 20 or 30 year old have an advantage in pursuing a materialistic competition either from a Nash theory perspective? You can always pivot into persona and lifestyle but it takes years to build up careerist credentials. Will materialistic rise in value when Boomers start retiring/dying and million dollar jobs fall to careerist millennials?

    (2) how much of this is driven by diversity? They say George Bush Senior was turned down for a job at P&G in Cincinnati which tells you every corporation was as exclusive, blue eyed, & male as a modern Silicon Valley VC firm. Now that wealth is open to all, does that diminish the allure?

  2. Careerism can take place just as fast as lifestyle or persona striving. The first stage for careerism is credentialing -- and you can go to college with no money down when you're 17 or 18. You can stay in various credentialing programs, again with no money down, throughout your 20s and into your 30s -- always telling yourself, and everyone else, that you're advancing along your career path.

    Lifestyle and persona striving also take awhile to cement your superior status to the other contestants -- if you just got into the competition, you may be sharing pictures of literal avocado toast to your social media. That's not worth many lifestyle points, because everyone's been there and done that. You have to do a massive amount of research just to figure out where the state of play is at -- and you have to constantly monitor that for the rest of your striving days, so you don't get left behind by your rivals.

  3. As for retirement, there is no such thing in a status contest -- you go until you drop dead. Boomers will never retire from high-status positions like the Greatest Gen did to make way for younger cohorts. Neither will Gen X retire from lifestyle striving, nor Millennials from persona construction contests.

    When Boomers do eventually kick the bucket, that will free up spots for material competition, but the Gen X and Millennial strivers have no way of knowing when that will happen. Will Boomers life to 60, 70, 80, 90? That's too much uncertainty to plan around. There's hardcore striving to be done here and now, and you can't just wait around for decades to go with a material striving path.

    It's like learning a language, or other kind of adaptation to the environment while you're growing up. Figure out what will pay off before it's too late, and just go with it. Strivers begin competing during their 20s, no time to wait around.

    Plus, the Boomers' spots will go to Gen X-ers, so they won't have to have devoted so much time and resources to that competition. They'll get there through seniority, than through a lifetime of materialist striving.

    It won't affect younger generations, who won't be in the running for Boomer spots. So Millennials and Gen Z-ers won't even bother shifting their strategies. They're resigned to a handful of elder Gen X-ers having dibs on the Boomer spots.


    This is a good picture of how elites have been increasingly detached from the common good. In the 1950's-early 1970's, the tax rate is above 50%. From the late 70's-1980, it "wobbles" unpredictably from around 55% to around 45% (this was the "awkward" transition phase between the New Deal and Neo-liberalism). From 1981-2003, it falls well below 45%. From 2004-2018, it falls below 30%.

    Or, to use the alignment between facial hair trends and status seeking:

    1950's-early 70's: clean shaven
    Late 70's: Mustaches
    1980's-2003: Goatees
    2004+: Beards

  5. Facial hair is interesting b/c cycles in it correlate with striving cycles in previous eras, back to the late Middle Ages, not just today's.

    For some aspects of appearance, you can argue it falls under material / wealth contests -- the more fabric there is, or the higher the quality, the more it costs.

    But your choice of facial hair says nothing about how much it costs to maintain. It's not a part of wealth striving, but more of either lifestyle or persona striving -- projecting a personal image to others.

    I'll hopefully have time to write that up for No-Shave November, there's just so many images to sift through and collate into a post to convince people who don't already know it (and nobody other than me does).

    There's also the wrinkle that in ancient Rome, the correlation is there -- but in the other direction. Cohesive, harmonious times saw beards, while fractured and competitive times saw clean-shaven faces. It's possible that facial hair had a different connotation for ancient Romans -- harking back to the wise, sober men of ancient Greece, not a way to compete with other guys here and now.

  6. "But your choice of facial hair says nothing about how much it costs to maintain. It's not a part of wealth striving, but more of either lifestyle or persona striving -- projecting a personal image to others."

    Which is why all generations buy into this grooming trend to a similar degree. It has no correlation to a particular strain of striving, but rather just indicates how much striving is going on at the moment.

    Looking at trading cards, NFL players (the least elite athletes among the 4 major sports; NBA players are the most elite due to the small rosters*) mostly were clean shaven prior to 1973, with only a handful sporting mustaches or longer sideburns. From 1973-1980, though, all kinds of facial hair gets more and more popular. Beards feel out of popularity to some degree from about 1984-1990 (when concern about crime and drugs peaked, it's not surprising that a lot of guys were trying to look more clean cut), and mustaches definitely were rejected by Gen X-ers in the 1990's. However, the more thuggish looking goatee (or the douchey Van Dyke variant) were widely worn by more and more players from 1991-early 2000's. And by the late 2000's, goatees and variations thereof were being turned into varying degrees of stubble and beards. I assume that 9/11 must've briefly delayed the inevitable turn towards "bearding"; as you've said before, 9/11 managed to obstruct what would've been the "natural" transition towards certain cultural trends and attitudes.

    *it would seem that anxiety about elite status is as important as attained elite status; thus, baseball pitchers by the late 70's were more devoted to styling their facial hair than any other type of athlete, since pitchers are chronically nervous about being thought of as unreliable or washed up, vulnerable to replacement within a game, on the depth chart, or on the roster. NBA players, on the other hand, were mostly clean shaven or wore a modest mustache in the 1980's, probably because NBA players who make it to the big leagues generally are confident and secure. This anxiety is reflected in the general population; over the last 30 years, increasingly status concerned prole normies have become as likely to grow beards as professionals or counter culture weirdos; the opposite was the case in the 1950's-1970's, when movie directors, professors, rock musicians, druggies, and bikers had more facial hair than Detroit auto line workers.

  7. The original Van Dyke beard was from a hyper-competitive period, leading up to the Civil War in England (following a trend that had been going since ca 1500). It didn't reappear until the Victorian / Gilded Age period. And now once again in the neo-Gilded Age.

  8. Facial hair does come with a cost - it doesn't allow someone to take advantage of their good looks. And even if the person isn't good-looking, there's more of a tendency to be less sympathetic towards them when you can't see the emotions on their face in great detail.

    Why, then, is it linked to status-striving? By hiding their facial emotions more, it makes the person more intimidating. I guess the vibe is sort of like - "you don't care about my emotions, I certainly don't care about yours". It shows how tough they are, that they don't want sympathy from anyone.

    Furthermore, since it makes a person less attractive to young women, it implies that they are subsuming and channeling their sex drive - becoming more obsessive in the workforce. This can also be intimidating, because it perhaps implies a more deranged personality.

  9. In other words, the vibe is - "you don't HAVE to care about my emotions, I certainly don't care about yours"

    With regards to this topic, one thing that should also be pointed out is that the pre-Boomer generations - Silents, Greatest Gen - were wealth-oriented rather than career-oriented.

    Careerism itself is a result of inequality - as it becomes harder to acquire wealth, Boomers were forced to fixate more on prestige(from career advancement) rather than money or property.

    Rising inequality/liberalization generally results in greater specialization in society, where people have to stick with one career track, and can't switch over if something more lucrative opens up. That's why you get associate professors who live in shitty apartments and take the bus to work(yet are succeeding when it comes to career-striving, because getting any professorial job with a college has huge prestige).

    Prior to that, the Silents and Greatest Gen could probably relatively easily switch career tracks if they saw more of an opportunity to make money. Back then, men also knew how to do all kinds of different technical things(fix cars, etc.), so that also implies more career fluidity.

  10. Careerism is the cause of inequality, not the effect. That's the Turchin model of over-production of elites.

    Greatest Gen were not strivers of any kind. If they were oriented toward anything, it was social bonds -- family, friends, community, labor union, nation.

    Boomers are the wealthiest generation in world history, they were not forced into careerism at all by inequality. They were the pioneers of careerism, starting off with the explosion of higher ed enrollments circa 1970.

  11. In your initial post, you said explicitly that Silents were more driven by wealth than the Boomers. I was extrapolating from that, though I guess you can explain what you really meant:

    "Silents seem to be driven more by wealth, Boomers by influence and power, although both are careerists. And although both are lifestyle competitors, Gen X wants to be cool, Millennials want to be famous."

    Going back to beards - beards confer authority. Those who grow a beard, therefore, wish to be an authority figure.

    In an egalitarian period, only a few people lay claim to authority, or can get away with pretending to be an authority figure; whereas during a status-striving period, lots of people want to be seen as authority figures, and don't get called out on it.

  12. Why, then, is it linked to status-striving? By hiding their facial emotions more, it makes the person more intimidating.

    Agreed. Though given the link between thickening facial hair and aging, it seems like twentysomethings growing our facial hair is sort of "butting in line". In other words, the status enhancement conferred by older age is coveted by people in a status seeking period, which motivates young adult males to "look older" via the "shortcut" of greater facial hair.

    That being said, large muscles and bones are far more scary than mustaches or beards. So people are most afraid of twenty and thirtysomething males, regardless of their grooming habits. But in modest periods, normie males will try to avoid looking like barbarians. It also seems like tats and piercings go hand in hand with greater facial hair, BTW, to complete the barbarian look.

    Furthermore, since it makes a person less attractive to young women,

    Women state in surveys/studies in which they were shown men with a variety of facial hair styles (or no facial hair at all) that they find trimmed beards to be the most attractive look. Caveats:
    1)The surveys and studies are from a time of high striving, not a middle class paradise. I doubt women would've given the same response in a 1960 survey.

    2)Most male sex symbols, rock stars and actors, of the 1960's-1980's (a time of high outgoingness, regardless of striving trends*) had no facial hair at all. Or at most, a well groomed mustache (Tom Selleck) or slight stubble (e.g. the Miami Vice look). Then in the early 90's, Alt Rock, thrash metal, 90's hip hop etc. often featured facial hair, and this trend has continued ever since with various emergent music styles of the last 30 years. Plus, actors since the early 90's have increasingly been seen in public and even on screen with copious facial hair.This suggests that cocooning women want their libidos to be held in check by guys covering their faces up, and furthermore, cocooning men are less willing to do anything to get their girls excited.

    *Beards among musicians and actors became even less prevalent after the the effects of Punk and New Wave (both the pop and heavy metal variants) took hold by 1979, and stayed unpopular within 1980's college rock, hair metal, electro funk, synth pop, and heartland rock. Iron Maiden, Bon Jovi, Springsteen, Micheal Jackson, Depeche Mode, The Cure, John Mellencamp etc. all were clean shaven throughout the decade. And star 80's actors like Harrison Ford, Tom Cruise, Schwarzenegger, etc. all were clean shaven within the decade.

    So I'd say that women's perception of what's attractive are influenced by both striving and cocooning, with periods featuring both trends having the largest number of bearded guys and women who claim to be attracted by the look.

  13. "Women state in surveys/studies in which they were shown men with a variety of facial hair styles (or no facial hair at all) that they find trimmed beards to be the most attractive look. Caveats:"

    I remember reading that, and I think what they meant is just a veneer of stubble(five o'clock shadow), not really a beard, to prove that the guy could quickly grow a beard if he wanted to.

    And even then, I would say it was more that women generally prefer clean-shaven, but want the guy to grow stubble once in awhile to prove that he can.

  14. Beards are male-male competition, not courtship of females. They reflect gerontocracy during striving / inegalitarian environments (because high-status men refuse to retire from their positions to allow non-geezers to ascend). If gerontocracy is the game, then you have to play by those rules to get ahead -- and if you aren't already an established geezer, you have to fake it until you make it, or do pure mimicry and fake it even though you'll never make it, to fool others.

    Whatever women want in male facial hair, it's not a high priority, and they have no control over it -- both because of the heavy zeitgeist effect on men's decisions for facial hair, and because men are making that decision with only a mind toward competing against other men.

    Same for women's fashion / appearance decisions -- mostly to compete against other women, not to attract men (which, if it happens, is an unintentional by-product). Men may find certain styles more attractive, but again it's out of their hands, so they don't obsess over it.

    If a guy wanted a woman with long hair in the egalitarian Midcentury, he was just as out of luck as a woman who wanted a man with a full beard. Just like if he wants a babyface with a pixie hairdo today, he's out of luck. (Seemingly only masculine-faced women wear their hair short today, and in an aggressively fashion-victim way, to make it clear they're competing against other women, not trying to attract men.)

  15. Enough about beards, more pictures of pixie-haired babyfaces. One of the few results showing the proper use of this hairstyle from Google Images "pixie hair":

    Most of the others were masculine-faced women trying to look more bossy with the "let me speak to your manager" bob hairdo.

    Haters will say the girl in the pic looks too babyfaced, but she's sporting sideburns and furry eyebrows. Returning to the theme of body hair, it's the most reliable sign of a person reaching sexual maturity, so she doesn't end up looking like a kid. She's obviously around her early 20s.

    Perhaps worth noting that she looks Latina, who I've noticed are the only ones to attempt this combination nowadays. Small sample size, of course, since hardly anyone of any ethnicity does so. It may be concentrated among Caribbean Latinas, too, since the only two I can think of IRL are both Caribbean.

    And from pop culture, Martika sported a bob for awhile in the late '80s. Camila Cabello could pull off a short hairdo today, although she looks hot with big long hair already.

  16. Bernie killing with me this immigration plan...he's gone full cuck

  17. Boomers are the wealthiest generation in world history, they were not forced into careerism at all by inequality. They were the pioneers of careerism, starting off with the explosion of higher ed enrollments circa 1970.

    Later Boomers often complain about having it tougher than early Boomers, although that seems more rooted in envy rather than moral opposition to careerist/wealth accumulation striving. It's X-ers who really shook their heads and decided to go in a different direction, albeit one that ended up having it's own form of striving.

    Later Boomers often complain about the 1970's impeding their own ambition after Silents and early Boomers benefited from the 1950's and 60's. But in hindsight, the 1970's were much more economically favorable to young adults than future decades would be. Later decades would be so harsh on young adults that these generations would to a large degree not even bother with the pretense of wealth accumulation, unlike Silents or Boomers.


You MUST enter a nickname with the "Name/URL" option if you're not signed in. We can't follow who is saying what if everyone is "Anonymous."