Swedes spurn bling but value education

Being broke need not mean social death in Sweden - as long as you are well-educated. But for Americans and Russians having a good all-round education is no substitute for having cash, according to a new survey on status symbols in the three countries.

The international survey by analysts United Minds asked 1,000 people in each country what values confer status.

‘Bling’ items such as expensive jewellery and designer clothes come well down the list for Swedes, while featuring more highly for Americans and, particularly, Russians.

“Sweden is the only country where you can be penniless but well-read and still have the highest status in the neighbourhood. General financial security means that things like a good education and being a good parent are seen more as something to aim for,” said Marie Söderqvist Tralau, analyst at United Minds.

Entrepreneurship seemingly counts for little among Swedes. They were alone in not rating owning a company as being a big status symbol. Americans and Russians both put this in third place, while among Swedes it fell out of the top ten.

Having an all-round education was the most important value for Swedes, coming above other considerations such as wealth.

Swedes – particularly Swedish men – considered language skills to be a big status symbol, putting the ability to speak a number of languages in fourth place. Russians put languages fifth, but Americans did not think a command of foreign languages conferred high status.

Swedes and Americans placed family and marriage high up the list of 100 values. Russians were more materialistic, with work, money and titles valued more highly than softer values such as parenthood and marriage. A long and stable marriage was only 21st most important for Russians, while it was seventh for Swedes and eighth for Americans.

Not all marriages conferred equal status, however. People in all three countries viewed a woman with a much younger husband as having very low status. A much younger wife was less unpopular, but this was not viewed as a status enhancer in any country.

People in all three countries put having a degree high on the list, although Russians particularly rated a degree from a university with high international status, such as Harvard or Oxford. Being good at one’s job was the top rated quality for Russians and Americans, and the second most important thing for Swedes.

“A good education is very important in all countries, and especially so in Sweden. It is a sophisticated way of showing you are intelligent, unlike for instance, luxury goods or academic titles,” said Tralau.

When it comes to status-enhancing objects, Swedes put eco-cars such as hybrids at the top of the list. For Americans and Russians there was much less status in using your wheels to show your green credentials.

The biggest social faux-pas in Sweden was to have a childminder or cleaner and pay them under the table. In Russia and the US, having IKEA furniture was near the bottom of the list at 98, while Swedes put this at 73.

Having plastic surgery and therapy ranked low in all three countries, with Americans ranking therapy right at the bottom of the list.

The email survey was sent to 1,000 people in each country, with respondents selected to be representative in terms of age, sex and location.