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Anxieties of Entitlement

Elite Common Sense about Merit and Moral Worth
Rachel Sherman
p. 61-86

Résumé

Despite the rise of the “moral economy” as a frame for analyzing increasing inequality, few scholars have explored the moral dimensions of elites’ experience and interpretations of their own privilege. Based on in-depth interviews with 50 affluent New York parents, this paper focuses on how they manage the peculiar concept of “entitlement”. In U.S. political culture, this concept links individuals’ dispositions and behaviors to whether they deserve resources, as studies of welfare recipients have established. I argue that a similar analysis is needed for elites. These privileged actors want to interpret themselves as legitimately deserving of (i.e., entitled to) their social advantages, which means not being “entitled” in a behavioral and dispositional sense. They cast legitimate entitlement as depending upon moral worth in three areas: hard work, reasonable consumption, and “giving back”. They also feel a strong obligation to raise children who share the­se values. In invoking these criteria of worth, affluent respondents primarily attach themselves to the symbolically-worthy American middle class. The paper concludes with a discussion of how this relationship between dispositions and distributions justifies inequality.

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The author is grateful to the editors and to two anonymous reviewers for their comments.

I. Introduction

1As I interviewed wealthy New Yorkers about their lifestyles and consumption habits, from choosing schools for their children to renovating their homes, I was struck by how often they used the word “entitlement”. They used this idea in an almost exclusively negative sense, especially to describe their fears about what their children would become. They also used it to describe other wealthy adults from whom they wished to distance themselves. To be “entitled” was to be rude, snobbish, lazy, or materialistic, but underlying these specific manifestations was a sense of imagining oneself as better, more important, or more deserving than others.

2“Entitlement”, as currently used in U.S. political culture, has married two distinct notions: an individual psychological sense of excessive deservingness and a state benefit. The concept of entitlement thus articulates affect, disposition, and character with resource distribution, and in fact the negati­ve psychological meaning has helped stigmatize welfare receipt. While scholars have noted the relationship of character to the legitimacy of one’s position in distribution as it relates to the poor, they have rarely investigated it in terms of the wealthy. This paper analyzes how 50 affluent New Yorkers engaged with this concept of entitlement as they described their own experiences. My analysis follows the recent turn in the literature on inequality toward morality and moral economy, but highlights a neglected moment of moral interpretation: that of elites themselves, of their own privilege, rather than of inequality as an abstract concept.

3Ultimately, I argue, “entitlement” is the fulcrum upon which my respon­dents’ notions of themselves as morally good people rests. This “entitlement” is indicated by behaviors and dispositions including laziness, snobbery, materialism and a belief that one is better than others. My respondents, in contrast, described themselves implicitly and explicitly as having a propensity for hard work, prudent consumption, and “giving back”, and as being “normal” rather than entitled. But critiques of “entitlement” did not fra­me it in terms of access to resources. In fact, I argue, to be “unentitled” in a dispositional sense was to become legitimately entitled in a distributional sense; the problem is what kind of person you are, not how much you have.

II. Morality, Subjectivity, and Inequality

4As many other authors have pointed out, the study of economic inequality has exploded in the last decade or two, as inequality itself has increased (for reviews, see Cousin/Khan/Mears, 2018; Khan, 2012). One dimension of this analysis has been the question of the moral legitimacy of inequality (see, e.g. Sayer, 2005, 2007; Sachweh, 2012; Svallfors, 2006). Most research in this vein has focused on subjects’ attitudes about inequality; that is, to what extent they believe it is acceptable and on what basis (for a recent review, see Kuusela/Kantola, 2018). Often, such work compares attitudes across class or across national contexts, linking them to particular political and cultural factors (e.g. Larsen, 2016; Reis/Moore, 2005; Roex et al., 2018; Heuer et al., 2018; Svallfors, 2006; Rowlingson/Connor, 2011; Sach­weh, 2012, 2017). Much of this research has been based on survey data, but recently some scholars have begun to explore these questions using qualitative interviews and focus groups (e.g. Sachweh, 2012, 2017; Taylor-Gooby et al., 2018).

5As Kuusela and Kantola (2018) point out, scholars have largely ignored these questions of moral economy for those at the top. Indeed, most of the recent literature on elites primarily analyzes their mechanisms of social clo­sure, distinction, and display, often engaging with Veblen (1994) and/or Bourdieu (1984) (e.g. Kendall, 2002; Chin, 2011; Holden Sherwood, 2013; Cousin/Chauvin, 2014; Daloz, 2010; Khan, 2011; Kuusela, 2018; Mears, 2014, 2015; Neely, 2018; Rivera, 2015; Savage et al., 2008; Spence, 2016; for critiques, see Daloz, 2013; Sayer, 2005). As such this literature has ten­ded to ignore moral conflicts elites might feel. Even Michèle Lamont’s (1992) very influential incorporation of morality into the analysis of elites focuses only on how moral boundaries, like cultural and socio-economic boundaries, function to delineate who belongs, rather than engaging conflicts such people might feel about their own moral worth (see Sherman, 2018). By the same token, these studies also rarely engage with the lived experience of living at the top and any conflicted feelings elites may have about this. Partly this lacuna is methodological, as it is difficult to gain access to elites for surveys (see Page et al., 2013) or for qualitative interviews. But it also may come from the dominance of the assumption characteristic of social theory from Marx to Bourdieu that beneficiaries of unequal social structures are concerned primarily with maintaining their privilege.

6Very recently, qualitative data has begun to emerge on the views elites themselves hold about the acceptability of inequality in a variety of countries. Typically, wealthy people are relatively accepting of inequality. For example, Kuusela and Kantola (2018:1) find that the high-income (.1%) Finnish people they studied

have a strong tendency to either ignore or approve of the existing economic inequalities, while disregarding the role of the wealthy in the dynamics of such inequalities.

7Katharina Hecht (2017) argues that high income earners in London deploy market logics to construct inequality as fair. Alice Krozer (2018) finds that Mexicans in the 1% see inequality as problematic in the abstract but rarely problematize the structural forces that produce it. However, both Hecht and Krozer, despite looking at elites in very different contexts, find exceptions to this rule: more liberal elites who are critical of inequality.

8This research has usefully identified what kinds of beliefs and explicit justifications various groups of people hold about the legitimacy of inequality, particularly of unequal distributions. However, this literature tends to draw a bright line between concepts such as “belief”, “perception”, or “reasoning”, and those of “affect” and “emotion” (see, e.g. Sachweh, 2012:422). Thus beliefs or opinions about legitimate distributions are not tied, in this work, to feelings about or experiences of these distributions, especially among elites. The study of the relation between affect, disposition, and class, or what Diane Reay has called «The psychic landscape of social class» (2005), has primarily focused on the working class (e.g. Hochschild, 2016; Kefalas, 2003; Sayer, 2005; Sennett/Cobb, 1973; Sherman, 2009; Silva, 2013; Skeggs, 1997).

9Gesturing more toward this approach, a few scholars have also used qualitative methods to understand how elites justify their own privilege. One practice is essentially to deny that they have it, often by comparing themselves to those with more (Hecht, 2017; Krozer, 2018; Reeves, 2017). Those who do recognize privilege often invoke the justification of “hard work”, in various ways (Hecht/Summers, 2018; Kantola/Kuusela, 2019; Khan, 2011; Gaztambide-Fernández, 2009; Howard, 2010; Power et al., 2016). Less frequently, scholars have identified “ordinariness” as a form of justification. Kuusela and Kantola’s Finnish respondents, for example, drew on rhetorics of ordinariness in two senses: by emphasizing upward mobility (starting out ordinary and moving up) and by invoking «cultural repertoires of modesty» (2018:7), meaning they do not spend excessively or live luxurious lifestyles (see also Schimpfossl, 2018 on Russia; Sachweh, 2012; Rowlingson/Connor, 2011). Scholars of elite education have identified a moral imperative among privileged students to be a “good person” (Gaztambide-Fernández, 2009; Gaztambide-Fernández/Howard, 2013; Ho­ward, 2010), and Rowlingson and Connor have explored the possibility of evaluating wealthy deservingness on the basis of “character”, by which they appear to mean primarily philanthropic and consumer habits (2011).

10This project complements these efforts by asking how privileged people make sense of what they have, as they talk about their experience of living with privilege. Where do moral norms emerge and where do they struggle around them? What I will show is that “entitlement” emerges as a moral threat, and these affluent respondents struggle to define themselves as not-entitled, which is not a simple process of justification. But first it is necessary to explore the complicated valences of this powerful concept.

III. The Uses of “Entitlement”

11The word “entitlement” has several meanings in the U.S. context (Cairns, 2017; Naumann et al., 2002; Nunberg, 2012; Super, 2004). One primary use refers to a psychological state, a sense that one is deserving. This sense does not necessarily have a negative connotation. Annette Lareau, for example, uses the notion of a «sense of entitlement» among children to mean that kids feel that they have a «right to pursue» their own interests and preferences, that they deserve the attention and engagement of adults, and that it is reasonable for them «to actively manage interactions in institutional settings» (2011:6; see also Calarco, 2014). But the term has become closely linked to narcissism. That is, it has come to signify a pathology, a belief that one is deserving of more than one actually deserves (until recently “entitlement” was classified as an element of narcissistic personality disorder in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders). As the term has spread well beyond its technical usage into popular parlance it has also ta­ken on a largely negative moral dimension. It is often used to describe a moralized character trait analogous to selfishness rather than a medical condition. Popular books such as The Narcissism Epidemic: Living in the Age of Entitlement (Twenge/Campbell, 2009) promulgate the notion that this condition is especially widespread at this moment (see Cairns, 2017; on the spread of “narcissism”, see Lunbeck, 2014).

  • 1 Np = not paginated (electronic publication).

12The second meaning refers to a type of state benefit, such as Social Security, called an “entitlement” because it is in a category outside discretionary budgetary allocations. This is a technical category, not a normative one; but historically, as linguist Geoff Nunberg (2012:np1) has written, «the word also implied that the recipients had a moral right to the benefits». However, in recent decades, reference to the (morally neutral) state benefit has become tainted with the negative connotation of the psychological mea­ning (Hertzberg, 2013; Liberman, 2012; Nunberg, 2012). Recipients of sta­te benefits in particular are stigmatized by the association of “entitlement” with laziness, narcissism, and dependency (see, e.g., Fraser/Gordon, 1994; Katz, 2013; Marchevsky/Theoharis, 2000). This link is deeply racialized as it is connected to racist tropes such as that of the “welfare queen”.

13Although they did not invent these associations, right-wing politicians have actively reiterated the link between the two concepts. Mitt Romney, for example, said during his 2012 presidential campaign that we live in an «entitlement society», a claim which implicitly tied the character flaw to the idea of welfare benefits. As Nunberg (2012:np) noted at the time,

You can deplore ‘the entitlement society’ without actually having to say whether you mean the social or political sense of the word, or even acknowledging that there’s any difference.

14One crucial point about the current usage of this term as it has come to connect “material benefits” and “character flaws” is that it highlights a fundamentally strange, though deeply taken for granted, linkage between psychological traits and social distributions. The notion of being “entitled” in an individual psychological or dispositional way – that is, as a (primarily negative) personality trait – is used to evaluate “entitlement” to resources. It attaches deservingness to “character” rather than to membership in some group (citizens, residents, elderly, poor).

15Especially striking about this use of the term is that, most of the time, the word “entitlement” inherently connotes illegitimate entitlement (Hertzberg, 2013; Liberman, 2012; Nunberg, 2012). It does not require the modifier of “illegitimate” because illegitimacy has become implicit. Therefore the word “entitlement” actually comes to mean “undeservingness” or “lack of merit”. People who are not “entitled” (because they do not have these character flaws) actually are deserving and worthy. Therefore, to be not-entitled is, confusingly, to be entitled.

16James Cairns has analyzed how the concept of “entitlement” in current political culture links character and resource distribution in the case of “millennials”. These young people are often represented as (illegitimately) “entitled” – self-absorbed, wanting everything their way, emotionally fragile, and so on – in ways that are said to be historically new, ridiculous in the face of all the contemporary advantages they have, and destructive to society (2017:2-3; on millennials see also Chatrakul Na Ayudhyaa/Smithson, 2016). As Cairns shows, this trope has become widespread in all kinds of popular culture. This psychological meaning is attached to distribution, in what he calls the “politics of entitlement”, which means that critical questions about what people deserve and on what basis are dismissed. Cairns argues that the portrayal of millennials as characterologically flawed is being used to promote the acceptance of fundamental shifts in the economic landscape that have created economic insecurity for younger Americans, including the degradation of work, the decline of state benefits, and the rise of enormous student debt. Millennials’ expectations (of earning a living wa­ge, for example) are delegitimated as they are framed as excessive, stemming from unreasonable “entitlement”.

17What Cairns does not attend to in his generational analysis is the fact that these negative usages are closely connected to popular, critical discourses of class as well as of youth. On the one hand, the stigma on the use of state entitlements by poor people is actually a stigma on their dispositions and moral selfhoods. By receiving welfare, recipients reveal their disposition to be lazy and “entitled”, which seems like the true moral flaw. Material need itself becomes morally stigmatized rather than understood as a social problem to be solved, making welfare receipt illegitimate and obscuring structural critiques.

  • 2 The more positive use of “entitlement” is typically scholarly; Lareau A., 2011 and Calarco J-M., 20 (...)

18On the other hand, though it has been less remarked upon, “entitlement” is also critiqued at the top of the income distribution. In his study of St. Paul’s boarding school, for example, Shamus Khan demonstrates that “entitlement” – meaning a belief that one is entitled to social advantages by virtue of heritage, including «the ‘right’ breeding, connections, and culture» (2011:14) – has lost legitimacy. Khan argues that this idea was attached to a declining aristocratic upper class and is counterposed to an increasingly-dominant meritocratic one. As noted, it is possible to offer a more neutral definition, like Lareau’s, quoted above, which emphasizes a feeling of deservingness that is not necessarily unreasonable or illegitimate (see also Calarco, 2014). Indeed, Khan’s definition is Lareau’s definition on steroids, a feeling of deservingness that has gotten out of control and become unrea­sonable. This negative sense is the overwhelmingly dominant one in popular usage2.

19Despite Khan’s focus on “entitlement”, he does not look at how it plays out in the lived experience of the privileged students he studies, except to show that they see it negatively. But my research shows that this concept is very much alive in more or less the same population, even as affluent people try to avoid it. This paper looks at the ways in which affluent New Yorkers, in their discussions of themselves and their families – not of abstract distributions – distance themselves from ideas about illegitimate “entitlement” and construct a legitimately-entitled self.

IV. Exploring Entitlement: Methods and Sample

  • 3 For extensive discussion of methodological choices and their consequences, and more details on proc (...)

20Defining “elite” or “wealthy” is complicated, of course. For the purposes of this project, which focuses on the lived experience of having more economic resources than others (rather than, for example, power over them [Khan, 2012; Reis/Moore, 2005]), it was sufficient to look at those at the top of the income and wealth distribution. I chose to seek people with over $250,000 in income (the top 5% in New York City at the time I began the research) and/or $1 million in non-home assets. As noted, previous research, even qualitative research, tends to focus on the relatively abstract question of whether respondents believe inequalities are fair. My study was a more inductive investigation into the lived experience of privilege. I decided to explore this experience by looking at major lifestyle choices, focu­sing on how respondents constructed “needs” versus “luxuries”, where they felt conflicted about these decisions, and how they produced lifestyle using both unpaid family labor and paid labor of various kinds. I initially sought respondents who had recently made major lifestyle decisions, such as purchasing a home or choosing a school for a child; ultimately I focused on having done a recent home renovation, as renovation choices illuminated how respondents defined their needs, used and talked about money, and made decisions with partners. I suspected that many characteristics – race, gender, sexual orientation, education, occupation, class trajectory, source of wealth, and political views – were likely to influence their experience and their discourses. Rather than try to focus on one of these characteristics (several of which are likely correlated to some extent), given the difficulty of sampling among this population and the dearth of previous research, I chose to sample for range and look at what emerged3.

  • 4 These estimates were calculated on the basis of what respondents told me about their assets, income (...)

21Primarily using snowball sampling to reach respondents, I interviewed 50 people in 42 households between 2009 and 2013. All were parents bet­ween 32 and 54 years old, mostly with children under 12. Nearly all respon­dents were in the top 1-2% in terms of income and/or wealth, while a few were in the .1%. Most households (36, or 86%) had incomes of over $500,000 per year or assets over $3 million, or both; approximately half earned over $1 million and/or had assets over $8 million. The median income of the sample was about $625,000, more than 12 times the national and New York City medians of about $52,000. The estimated median net worth was $3.25 million, in contrast to the median net worth in the US as a whole, which in 2013 (after the recovery from the recession) was $81,0004.

22About half the respondents lived primarily on income from their own or their spouse’s work, typically in finance, corporate law, real estate, or business (though a few worked in occupations such as architecture or advertising). In contrast, about one quarter lived primarily on their inherited wealth. While these people held jobs, in occupations including academia, the arts, and non-profits, their salaries in these relatively low-paying fields did not sustain their lifestyles, and they relied on income from investments to do so. The remaining quarter of the sample both worked (or had worked) in high-income occupations, making at least $400,000, and had inherited wealth. The sample includes 18 stay-at-home mothers, almost all of whom have professional employment histories.

  • 5 This is primarily, I believe, because women who do not work for pay have more time for interviews, (...)
  • 6 For reasons of confidentiality, I do not identify respondents by race/ethnicity when quoting them; (...)

23Demographically, the sample is 75% women5. The sample includes about 10 people of color, mostly African American but also Indian and Indian American, and seven people in same-sex relationships6. All respondents hold college degrees, and two-thirds (including two-thirds of the stay-at-home mothers) have advanced degrees, in almost all cases from elite institutions. They are mostly Democrats, but some identified as Republicans or independents, and a few lean to the left of Democrats. All respondents own at least one home; many own second (or third) homes or have close family members who do. Nearly all send their children to private schools. They are worldly, culturally omnivorous, and like to travel widely.

24The interviews focused initially on decisions such as home purchase and renovation and the choice of children’s schools. Answers to these questions were closely connected to issues of how respondents saw themselves in relation to others with more or less than they had, as well as feelings about money in general. As I asked these questions, I noticed emergent narratives of merit, especially around the issue of “entitlement” in relation to children. As this focus became more prominent, I began to ask explicitly whether respondents though they “deserved” their lifestyle, usually at the end of the interview, if that topic had not come up previously. This question prompted them to elaborate on what it meant to be deserving. But I have also attended very closely to ideas about deservingness that were more implicit in their responses to other kinds of questions. The interviews were recorded, professionally transcribed, and coded by me and a research assistant using De­doose. My analysis emerged through repeated engagement with the data in light of the questions I was asking and in dialogue with the theoretical and empirical work of others.

25I argue in what follows that my respondents are not simply justifying their privilege in a rhetorical sense, but rather actively trying to interpret themselves as particular kind of people – those who are not “entitled” dispositionally and thus are legitimately entitled distributionally. They do this not only with reference to hard work but also by understanding themselves as reasonable consumers who “give back” while maintaining awareness of their advantages. In doing this they draw on broadly available understandings of “normal” people as morally worthy, sometimes distancing themsel­ves from the recognition of privilege while at other times claiming it. Especially notable here are two dimensions: first, the interpretive work that goes into understanding oneself as not-entitled (see also Kantola/Kuusela, 2019), and second, the link of the affective or identity dimension to this legitimation effort. Respondents use the language of “feeling”, but they are usually talking about something we might call “selfhood”, “disposition”, or “habitus” – an orientation to the world that is neither an explicit “belief” nor a relatively fleeting emotional state.

V. Avoiding Entitlement

26As noted, my respondents shared anxieties about being “entitled”. This fuzzy term, as they used it, signaled a range of negative characteristics, including laziness, materialism, rudeness, and snobbery. But underlying these usages, “entitlement” also referred to an illegitimate feeling of deservingness; a sense of being superior to or more worthy than others without any basis for that feeling (Khan, 2011). Betsy, for example, was a stay-at-home mother and former management consultant with a household income of about $1 million, placing her family well into the top 1%. When she brought up the word “entitled”, I asked her to define it; she responded, «Feeling that you deserve it, because you were born into it, or had the right education, and [that] it should be this way». Asked what kind of people she didn’t like, Marie, a stay-at-home mother with a household income over $2 million, responded, «Entitlement, I would say. I would say, that type-A personality that says, ‘You owe me’».

27In contrast, my respondents wanted to be “normal”, or “down to earth”. But having money threatened the recipient’s “normal” selfhood because it could produce “entitlement”. Penny and her husband had grown up middle-class and working-class, but now had a household income of $3 million (mainly from her husband’s work as a lawyer). She said,

I don’t think the money has changed us in our core that dramatically. I think we still think, ‘Oh my God. This is so crazy’. Like, we don’t feel entitled, at all. And that’s why maybe we don’t like the people who seem like they’re entitled.

28Like Penny, my respondents do not want to be the kind of people who feel or act they are better than others or deserve more.

29To be “entitled” in this way is to be illegitimately privileged in a moral sense. Instead, these respondents try to interpret themselves as “good people”, which means being legitimately privileged. What follows is a brief account of three elements of this legitimate entitlement: being hard workers, reasonable consumers, and giving back. These respondents also hope to raise children with similar dispositions.

A. Hard Work

30Allusions to hard work as a mechanism of legitimation were very pronounced in my conversations, as might be expected. But they played out in different ways according to the source of wealth. Respondents who had high incomes easily cast themselves as deserving on the basis of their paid work, emphasizing their independence, self-sufficiency, and, sometimes, mobility. For example, Ursula had an MBA and had worked for many years in business before becoming a stay-at-home mother; her executive husband brought in over $2 million per year. Asked if she deserved her lifestyle, she told me,

We know the value of hard work. I think we deserve what we have in the sense that we worked hard to get it. This is not something we’ve inherited.

31Paul, who had grown up middle-class and was making about $500,000 per year in finance, said, «I’ve worked my God-damn ass off to earn what I’ve got. No one’s handed me anything». In making these claims, respondents often obviated the supports they had received. Paul, for example, mentioned financial help he received from his in-laws, but immediately turned back to the standard narrative, saying «but I’ve done it». Those who had wealth from both paid work and inheritance talked about feeling more comfortable with and “proud” (in one woman’s words) of money they had “earned”.

32It was more complicated for those who did not work for pay at all – the stay-at-home mothers – and those whose lifestyles were not funded by their own salaries – the inheritors – to interpret themselves as hardworking, self-sufficient, and productive. But they consistently offered these interpretations, drawing on the flexibility of the concept of “work” (Rowlingson/Connor, 2011). Stay-at-home mothers framed their unpaid consumption and fa­mily labor as “real work”. Asked whether she deserved her lifestyle, a mo­ther I call Stephanie said «Hell, yes. I work my ass off… I don’t spend my days going to get my hair done, and go shopping, and have lunch with my friends». Instead, she recounted taking her son to school and picking him up, saying, «And in between, I’m cleaning the house, doing the laundry, going food shopping, dealing with stuff on the phone». Like Stephanie, ma­ny of these women went out of their way to draw boundaries against other women whom they painted as more self-indulgent consumers, while framing their family labor as legitimate (see Raxlen/Sherman, 2019). They also invoked their husbands’ work or their own previous paid labor, as Ursula’s quotation above demonstrates, to indicate deservingness.

33The inheritors, on the other hand, emphasized the importance of paid work to their self-conception. They wanted to have jobs even when they did not need the income. Sara said, for example, that she had been raised to work, although she came from a wealthy family and had already inherited over $10 million. Her parents had always communicated to her and her siblings that «‘You need to have a job.’ … It definitely got drilled into us pretty early on that ‘You are not to be, like, dilettantes’». Inheritors emphasized their hard work as a basis for deserving wealth even when they knew this work did not explain their having wealth. Eliana, for example, could have lived on her $9 million in assets without working. She kept her job in a nonprofit, she said, partly because

that’s part of my, like [being] normal thing, is to hold a job. I’m a functioning member of society… I think I’d be embarrassed if I didn’t have a job.

34These respondents often described what Helen, a stay-at-home mother with household assets over $10 million, called a “mindset” of hard work. She told me, referring to her husband and herself,

I feel like we have more of the values of my parents, who had to count every single penny. Because it was scholarship money. And they got no gifts from their family. You know, money-wise, or anything. So, they were very, very self-made. So, my mindset is from there.

35This affective predisposition to work was important, whether or not the respondent was currently working for pay. Lucy was a stay-at-home mother whose husband had accumulated assets over $50 million. She wondered whether it would set a good example for her children for her to return to paid work. She said,

I have a very strong work ethic. I’m, like, very committed. I’m a great worker. I’m loyal. You know, I get what it means to get up every day and do that. I totally get that. But my mother never worked. So I got that somehow in a house without my mother working.

36For her, the “work ethic” is the important thing, not the work itself.

37By the same token, Paul told me that two of his younger colleagues were helping him with the logistics of his own expensive housing purchase. He thought this was “good”, because seeing what he had «may drive them to work harder». He was concerned, however, that it might make them «feel a little more entitled. Entitled in that they should be there already without working as hard». The character trait of “hardworkingness” – an understan­ding that work matters – becomes as important for deserving privilege (and warding off “entitlement”) as actually working hard for money.

B. Prudent Consumption

38However, working hard is not the only criterion of moral deservingness my respondents describe. The second, much less noted in the academic literature as an indicator of merit, is consuming reasonably (see Kantola/Kuusela, 2019). When I asked Talia, a stay-at-home mother with a household income of around half a million dollars, if she felt she deserved her wealth, she responded: «Yeah. I worked really hard and I, like, I don’t live a lifestyle that’s so decadent». Talia signals her deservingness with allusion to her past work, but also to her consumption. Across the sample, the idea of “decadence” was distasteful. Respondents saw themselves, in contrast, as prudent in their needs and desires – again, a feature of selfhood, indicated by a set of behaviors.

39They tended to represent their consumption as meeting only basic needs, and as being ordinary or “normal”, describing family dinners rather than fancy restaurants. They alluded especially to family in talking about their consumption. For example, Susannah was a mother of two who told me she and her husband spent $20,000 per month. When I asked on what, she replied,

Well, in food alone. I mean I probably spend $500 a week at the grocery store, at least. Yeah. And then another $500 every two months just on Costco. We have [their live-in nanny]. We have a housekeeper. It costs me $80 to fill my car up. I mean the very minimum is once a week, usually twice a week. My car payments. School for the kids.

40Like Susannah, who mentions the discount big-box store Costco, other respondents emphasized buying at cheap stores or getting bargains. Many attributed spending large amounts to the fact that they lived in New York City. And they liked to think of themselves as moderate in their home renovations. Willa told me proudly that her architect had said she was «one of the only [clients] who keeps to a strict budget». A woman who had built a new house from the ground up said happily that she and her husband had chosen the smallest floor plan they were offered, which their architect had said was unusual.

41In these ways, they signaled their “normal” dispositions through their reasonable desires. Yet these respondents also often demonstrated conflict­ed feelings about what exactly “counted” as “reasonable”. Sometimes their desires got the better of them, as they talked about wanting a bigger house or a designer handbag. But they tried to rein in these desires in order to retain the sense of themselves as prudent.

42By the same token, they created boundaries against excess by rejecting ostentation and display. Olivia, whose husband had access to over $50 million in family wealth, said they tried to be «normal people» and «buy normal things». She was uncomfortable in a deep sense with the over-the-top aesthetic of the home they had bought. She told me, of the home, «I feel like, ‘This isn’t me.’ This doesn’t reflect who I feel like I am in the world, and who I want to be in the world». Nathan, who earned about $400,000 annually in finance, told me it made him uncomfortable to say he had a condo in a wealthy resort town, which he had bought before the town became so exclusive. Asked why, he told me,

It can have an association with a kind of over-the-top money that I still cringe from – I don’t embrace that. I certainly don’t, I don’t think I go for conscious markers of conspicuous consumption. I don’t think that’s my style.

43When they did mention extravagant spending decisions, respondents usually described them as being a “treat” for a special occasion, and thus an exception. Of her fancy honeymoon, Olivia told me, «We sort of felt entitled to do that. Or, I wouldn’t even say we felt entitled. But it felt okay. We could kind of rationalize it, I guess».

44To be “normal” also meant they could live without it if they had to. Kate, a professional who lived primarily on her partner’s inherited wealth, said,

If all this were to go away tomorrow… I don’t think I’d be totally crushed. I think I’d be like, ‘Oh, well, we have to change things a lot and dig up that tuna casserole recipe and move on’.

45Betsy said, in defining herself as not-entitled,

You know, I feel like if we had to change our lifestyle tomorrow, I feel like we could. It would be an adjustment, but I don’t know that we would be mourning forever the loss of what we [have].

46Like Penny, quoted previously, these respondents want to believe that money has not «touched the core» of who they are. Something about not «really» needing the lifestyle makes having the lifestyle more legitimate, while «feeling entitled» to the lifestyle is morally problematic.

C. Giving Back and Awareness

47To be hard workers and reasonable consumers is to aspire to the middle – to seek “ordinariness” (Kantola/Kuusela, 2019). Invoking these identities draws on the Protestant Ethic and its emphasis on discipline in both work and consumption, and thus gestures toward a kind of everyday American-ness. This American-ness is often attached to middle-class status, and both are widely represented in U.S. culture as morally worthy. In this sense my respondents were minimizing their privilege. Also, like many other elites, they often compared themselves to those who had more than they, to avoid defining themselves as wealthy. This was especially easy in New York City, where, in the words of one respondent, «there’s always someone richer than you».

48At the same time, however, they also acknowledged privilege more explicitly in a third aspect of establishing worth: the affect of “awareness” and the practice of “giving back”. For example, Frances, a stay-at-home mother with assets over $50 million, said,

I definitely am aware that it’s insane how much more money – I mean, the fact that I don’t have a budget, or don’t think about – I recognize that that’s incredibly privileged and foreign to most people. And, I don’t know, I hope that by us giving back and doing volunteer work, we help to spread it back around.

49She also told me, «I would never want to take any of this for granted».

50Others echoed Frances on the importance of awareness and recognition. Asked what “giving back” meant, Sara said it was partly giving financially and volunteering; but, «more broadly, I would [say], having a consciousness about, particularly, class issues and wealth and money». Many respon­dents described a moral imperative both to be aware of privilege and to appreciate it. Gary, an inheritor of over $10 million, said one of his «fundamental values» was that «You should never forget the privilege that you have, and be aware. Thankful». Nicholas, an inheritor who also earned mo­ney in his family’s business, had renovated a new home. He had been conflicted about it because of the expense, although he told me his resources were essentially unlimited. Now, he said, «I sit around and I appreciate it… A pox on anyone who would feel entitled to such things and not feel appreciative of them». Like being able to live without it, awareness and appreciation keep “entitlement” at bay.

51Not being entitled involves feeling recognition and gratitude. But this feeling is largely private, as these wealthy people observe a strong social norm of not talking about money. Nearly all respondents avoided speaking of specific amounts with anyone except their spouse and occasionally one or two family members or friends, and they tried in general to avoid talking about expenditures that signaled privilege. Talia, who was involved in a home renovation combining two apartments, said of money talk:

We never get into like specifics. I would never talk about like specific dollars with anybody. But yeah, I mean I think you know your audience. If I’m talking to someone who’s like a single mom, you know, like trying to scrape together enough money to support her children, I wouldn’t say, ‘Oh, we just bought an apartment next door’. As a matter of fact, I don’t really say it to anybody. And I know there are people who have way more than I do, but I just think it’s inappropriate, you know? Because I do hate other people who are more than happy to, like, talk about how much money they have. I think it’s so gauche. And like, you never know when that – again, I’m like, doomsday, you never know when it’s going to go away. So don’t brag about what you have.

52Talia signals both the social taboo on talking about money and the importance of imagining you might not have it forever – the “don’t get used to it” imperative that helps keep “entitlement” from corrupting the core self. Moral worth means talking about it to yourself, essentially, by being “aware”, but keeping silent with others.

53On the other hand, of course, “giving back” also often means taking potentially public action such as volunteering or giving money away. Most of my respondents gave some money to charity, although for most it was well under 5% of their income. Many gave primarily to their own schools or those of their children. Many, especially the stay-at-home mothers, also volunteered, also typically at their children’s schools. Those who gave less so­metimes said they did not have much to give, again interpreting themselves as not “really” rich. But for some, especially the wealthiest people in the sample, philanthropy was a bigger part of their identity. Some people in this category, mainly women whose money came from their husbands’ highly-paid work, took on traditional, public roles as volunteers and donors in a spirit reminiscent of noblesse oblige. Others were more ambivalent about taking on a philanthropic persona in which they recognized their wealth pu­blicly, so were more apt to give anonymously. These people more often lived on inherited wealth, had progressive politics and more diverse social networks, and were more explicitly conflicted about having wealth. One man, for example, told me that for years he had given $500 to «hundreds» of organizations, rather than bigger gifts to fewer organizations, in order to stay «under the radar». So, while “giving back” even in the charitable sense is sometimes visible, many wealthy people do not take on a public philanthropy stance.

D. Raising Good People

54It was with respect to children that I heard the word “entitlement” the most, because children, whose characters and values are still developing, are most at risk of becoming “entitled” selves. These parents want to make sure their children, instead, become “good people”, with a strong work ethic and prudent desires, who appreciate their privilege but avoid talking about it. Underpinning all of these dimensions of good personhood is the hope that children will not believe that they are better than others or behave as such. Parents saw cultivating such children as a moral obligation unto itself, but it was not easy. Although it is beyond the scope of this paper to detail all the ways in which they talked about this challenge and felt conflicted about it (Sherman, 2017b), I will offer a few examples of this effort as they explicitly related to producing dispositions.

55First, parents wanted to instill a strong work ethic. Olivia, for example, wanted her children to have skills that would allow them to earn a living, even though they would have nearly unlimited inherited wealth. Recognizing that they were unlikely to need to earn money, she said this concern was «a moral issue» rather than a practical one. She stated, «I think [my concern] is more just [their] being a productive member of society. And being a contributing member of society». Although most parents in the sample could not rest assured that their children would have access to so much, they also cared about the work ethic for reasons beyond simply the capacity to earn a living. Nicole, a photographer with about $2 million in inherited wealth and a household income of about $400,000, felt that her children should have a paying job in high school, perhaps in retail or food service. She said this would give her children

a basic work ethic. You’re not above scrubbing the floor. Like, nobody is. I think it’s very, very valuable to have an entry-level job. To do the things that I assume someday you’re going to be expecting other people to do.

56The issue here is cultivation of both the child’s work ethic and their empathy for others in a different social class; Nicole wants her children to avoid believing that they are better than anyone else, even while taking for granted that they will have more.

57Second, on the topic of consumption, parents were extremely concerned that children not develop excessive desires or distorted ideas about what “most people” have. Linda, an academic with inherited wealth, whose children attended private school, said of her kids: «I just want to really help them to understand and not to normalize people having country houses». Respondents tried to restrict their children’s consumption, not buying them everything they asked for and tying purchases to good behavior. Some parents required kids to do chores or to give away birthday or holiday gifts. Olivia said that her family was changing its travel habits (formerly having flown on a private plane or in first class),

because I want my kids to have the experience of, hey, you know, sometimes you’ve got to wait for things, and sometimes things are really cramped and crowded.

58Marie, a stay-at-home mother whose husband brought in over $2 million annually, had started restricting her own consumption as her children got older, in order to model a better consumer ethic. She said, «So, now I find myself at least buying things that don’t have any apparent labels».

59Third, and related to the idea of having a sense of what was “normal”, parents wanted their children to be aware of and appreciate their own privilege, while not imagining themselves as more deserving than others. Eliana said she did not want her children to be “entitled”. When I asked what that meant, she responded,

To take privilege for granted. To think it has something to do with you. Instead of just luck. … [You shouldn’t] think you’ve got anything on anybody else. Like, lack of respect. Lack of – not just respect, but full consideration. That all humans are as valuable as each other.

60Donovan, who both had inherited wealth and had received a high salary on Wall Street for a period of time, said that the «most important things» in his children’s education around money included «modeling behavior for them, again about appropriateness, about being grateful for what you have».

  • 7 Notably, one of the two instances I could find in my data in which “entitled” is not used in an exc (...)

61These parents faced a conflict. On the one hand, they wanted to give children every possible advantage in terms of education, life experience, and the attention of adults (including nannies, tutors, therapists, and teachers, as well as parents themselves). So they did want their kids to be “entitled” in Lareau’s sense; but they almost never used the language of entitlement to describe this7. On the other, parents wanted to place limits on children’s advantages so they would develop the right values and affects. Here the two meanings of entitlement come together: parents debate constraining material entitlements (broadly defined) in order to avoid producing dispositional “entitlement”. In a sense, this is a conflict between two versions of the self: a smaller self, which takes up the same amount of social and psychic space as others, and a more expansive self. Parents fear the unbounded self will become enormous, uncontrollable, and “entitled”, but they also fear that the smaller self might be diminished, and thus the true personality and potential of the child will be stunted. In the end, they almost always choose to offer the material entitlements while hoping that they can shape the child’s disposition as if there were material constraints, which can send very confusing messages to children (see Sherman, 2017b).

VI. Conclusion

62I have argued that the affluent parents I interviewed were very concerned with avoiding “entitlement” in themselves and in their children. Implicitly and explicitly, they described the entitled person as lazy, materialistic, lacking an understanding of limits, taking privilege for granted, and believing in their own superiority and greater deservingness. In contrast, the unentitled – and therefore morally worthy – person works hard, consumes reasonably, gives back, and is privately aware of privilege but, in the main, publicly reticent about it. This kind of person has a “normal” disposition, and so can appear and imagine herself to be “middle class”. But at the same time, this is also a way to be a “good rich person”. That is, to be a good rich person is to also not appear wealthy, not call attention to it, to be “down to earth”, while at the same time being aware of privilege and the obligation to “give back”. Such a person has avoided the potentially corrupting influence of money on one’s essential selfhood.

63These elements of being a “good rich person” – a work ethic, prudent spending, and charitable giving – have long marked U.S. elites (see Ostran­der, 1984, e.g.). But my respondents seem more conflicted than previous generations about their privilege, likely owing to the extreme economic inequality of the current period, as well as an increased cultural emphasis on meritocracy through work (Ho, 2009; Khan, 2011). Inheritors of wealth and stay-at-home mothers are more stigmatized than they seem to have been in previous generations, when quasi-aristocratic elite families dominated the upper class and elite women were not expected or trained to work for pay (see Raxlen/Sherman, 2020). Notably, these groups constitute a large part of my sample. Furthermore, the fact that my respondents are New Yorkers with extremely elite educations means they are likely to be more liberal and more cosmopolitan than wealthy people in other parts of the U.S. Further research is necessary to illuminate possible variation in how wealthy people understand what it means to be legitimately entitled. Larger-scale research could also compare respondents more precisely on the basis of race and gender. While my respondents articulated this lexicon of legitimacy across race and gender (as well as across differences in sexual orientation, political views, the source of their wealth, and their class origins), more systematic comparison would allow researchers to make better claims about the intersection of race, class, and gender.

64The fact that my respondents allude to these characteristics does not mean they always practice what they preach in terms of their work, consumption, or social contribution. Nor does it mean that they do not also police social boundaries or pursue distinction in the ways other analysts have outlined. Indeed, the mere allusion to these worthy characteristics can be seen as a form of distinction-seeking, inasmuch as it elevates the “good rich” person who is modest and “normal” above the ostentatious (and per­haps more nouveau-riche) person (Jarness, 2017). These understandings are not mutually exclusive; that is, wealthy people may pursue this kind of social discourse and action both because they are seeking distinction at some level and because they consider it morally better. The issue is that we should not limit our readings of their actions to the former (which is in any case impossible to disprove) while ignoring the latter. And we must take seriously their discourses and struggles rather than try to see past them to “real” motives, or dismiss “talk” as less important than “action” (Pugh, 2013).

  • 8 For another discussion of the relation of “character” to merit, see Karabel J., 2005.

65Beyond perhaps widening the lens with which we analyze the wealthy, these discourses and practices also matter for understanding the legitimacy of inequality more generally. The judgments I have described are widespread in the U.S. across class, constituting a common-sense cultural vocabulary of legitimate entitlement. Allusions to worthy rich people on the basis of being hardworking, modest, and charitable abound in movies, television, and even in the opinion pages of major news media (see, e.g. Stewart, 2016). While Americans also use other criteria to evaluate the worthy and unworthy rich (McCall, 2013; Page et al., 2009, e.g.), the emphasis on “character” is prominent8. Furthermore, as other scholars have pointed out, elites in different contexts also use allusions to hard work and ordinariness as justifications (see Kantola/Kuusela, 2019, on Finland, and Schimpfossl, 2018, on Russia). Of course, further comparative research is needed to see exactly how dispositions may be related differently to distributions. The history and usage of the word “entitlement” seems quite particular to the U.S., with its stingy and stigmatized welfare state, history of the Protestant Ethic, and strong ideology of the “American Dream”. But how cognate concepts might operate in other contexts is important to think about in understanding cultural legitimations of inequality.

66In their discussion of the possible bases of legitimate entitlement for the rich, Rowlingson and Connor (2011) include “character” (apparently indicated through philanthropy and consumption) along with “merit/hard work” and “incentivizing wealth creation”. They suggest that using character as a criterion of deservingness is normatively undesirable, since it «neglects the societal or institutional explanations that may better explain the successes and failures of individuals» (2011:446). Indeed, the legitimate privilege I have described – the opposite of “entitlement” – is primarily dispositional and behavioral. It is not distributional. It does not involve giving up anything material of real significance. In the end, one who does not act or feel “entitled”, can be – legitimately – materially entitled. And as the affective entitlement is recognized and critiqued explicitly as “entitlement”, the material entitlement goes unspoken.

67However inadequate this framework might be for critics of structural inequality (and I agree that it is), it is in fact the one my respondents, and many others, use. Ideas about individuals’ affect, behavior, and disposition play a role in how people evaluate the moral legitimacy of resource distributions for the rich, as well as for the poor. As Rowlingson and Connor also note (2011:446), the “excessive” consumption of the poor is subject to far more discipline by the state than that of the wealthy; the same is true of their propensity to work (however that may be defined). But to understand that inequalities are read through individual “character” is extremely important in fostering critique, and to look holistically at this – rather than to focus only on “work” – is critical. Finally, it is also crucial that scholars of moral economy explore individuals’ lived experience of their own entitlements, the way their personhood is articulated with their position in distributions. Again, this has been done among the poor (see especially Silva, 2013) but must also be a focus of research on the wealthy.

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Annexe

Structured Summary

Presentation: Despite the rise of the “moral economy” as a frame for analyzing increasing inequality, few scholars have taken seriously the moral dimensions of elites’ experience and interpretations of their own privilege. Based on in-depth interviews with 50 affluent New York parents, this paper focuses on how they manage the peculiar concept of “entitlement”. In U.S. political culture, this concept has married two distinct notions: an individual psychological sense of excessive deservingness and a state benefit. The concept of entitlement thus articulates affect, disposition, and character with resource distribution, and in fact the negative psychological meaning has helped stigmatize welfare receipt. While scholars have noted the relationship of character to the legitimacy of one’s position in distribution as it relates to the poor, they have rarely investigated it in terms of the wealthy. This paper analyzes how my respondents engaged with this concept of entitlement as they described their own experiences, and how it ultimately serves to legitimate their own advantages. My analysis highlights a neglected moment of moral interpretation in the current literature: that of elites themselves, of their own privilege, rather than of inequality as an abstract concept.

Method: Primarily using snowball sampling to reach respondents, I conducted semi-structured, in-depth interviews with 50 people in 42 households between 2009 and 2013. All were college-educated parents between 32 and 54 years old, mostly with children under 12. Nearly all were in the top 1-2% in terms of income and/or wealth, while a few were in the .1%. About 75% were women, 20% identified as people of color, and 20% were in same-sex relationships. Most were politically liberal; all had high cultural capital. About half the respondents lived primarily on income from their own or their spouse’s work. In contrast, about one quarter lived primarily on their inherited wealth. The remaining quarter of the sample both worked (or had worked) in high-income occupations, and had inherited wealth. The sample includes 18 stay-at-home mothers, almost all of whom have professional employment histories. I explored the lived experience of privilege by looking at how respondents constructed “needs” versus “luxuries”, where they felt conflicted about these decisions, and how they understood what it meant to “deserve” their lifestyle. The interviews were recorded, professionally transcribed, and coded by me and a research assistant.

Theory: My analysis is situated in the study of the morality of inequality, particularly the limited research on how the wealthy themselves perceive inequality and especially on how they experience and justify their own privilege. This project complements previous efforts by looking systematically at the moral norms privileged people articulate as they talk about their experience of living with privilege, especially the notion of “entitlement”. Critics have understood this negatively-valenced concept as linking individual character to systems of distribution both among young people (Cairns, 2011) and among welfare recipients (e.g., Fraser/Gordon, 1994; Katz, 2013; Marchevsky/Theoharis, 2000). My analysis theorizes the critique of entitlement among the wealthy (see also Khan, 2011) as it serves to legitimate their own structural advantages.

Results: Ultimately, I argue, “entitlement” is the fulcrum upon which my respondents’ notions of themselves as morally good people rests. Implicitly and explicitly, they described the entitled person as lazy, materialistic, lacking an understanding of limits, taking privilege for granted, and believing in their own superiority and greater deservingness. In contrast, the unentitled – and therefore morally worthy – person (the respondent herself) works hard, consumes reasonably, gives back, and is privately aware of privilege but, in the main, publicly reticent about it. Such a person also feels a strong obligation to raise children who share these values. This kind of person has a “normal” disposition, and so can appear and imagine herself to be “middle class”. But at the same time, this is also a way to be a “good rich person”. That is, to be a good rich person is to also not appear wealthy, not call attention to it, to be “down to earth”, while at the same time being aware of privilege and the obligation to “give back”. Such a person has avoi­ded the potentially corrupting influence of money on one’s essential selfhood. Yet at the same time, the concept of entitlement justifies unequal distributions. To be “unentitled” in a dispositional sense is to become legitimately entitled in a distributional sense; the problem is what kind of person you are, not how much you have.

Discussion: These elements of being a “good rich person” – working hard, spending prudently, and giving back – have long marked U.S. elites (see Ostrander, 1984, e.g.). But my respondents seem more conflicted than previous generations about their privile­ge, likely owing to the extreme economic inequality of the current period, as well as an increased cultural emphasis on meritocracy through work, for women as well as men (Ho, 2009; Khan, 2011; Raxlen/Sherman, 2019). These developments challenge the moral legitimacy of wealthy people’s advantages. Framing themselves as “good rich people” counters that challenge. My respondents may not always practice what they preach in terms of their work, consumption, or social contribution. They may also police social boundaries or pursue distinction in the ways other analysts have outlined. But these understandings are not mutually exclusive; that is, wealthy people may pursue this kind of social discourse and action both because they are seeking distinction at some level and because they consider it morally better. We should not limit our readings of their actions to the former (which is in any case impossible to disprove) while ignoring the latter. These discourses and practices matter not only for our understandings of the wealthy but also for understanding the legitimacy of inequality more generally. The jud­gments I have described are widespread in the U.S. across class, constituting a common-sense cultural vocabulary of legitimate entitlement. Furthermore, as other scholars have pointed out, elites in different contexts also use allusions to hard work and ordinariness as justifications (see Kantola/Kuusela, 2019, on Finland, and Schimpfossl, 2018, on Russia). Of course, further comparative research is needed to see exactly how dispositions may be related differently to distributions, both cross-nationally and within the U.S., beyond the liberal, cosmopolitan elite described here.

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Notes

1 Np = not paginated (electronic publication).

2 The more positive use of “entitlement” is typically scholarly; Lareau A., 2011 and Calarco J-M., 2014 are not reporting that their informants used this language.

3 For extensive discussion of methodological choices and their consequences, and more details on procedures, see Sherman R., 2017a, “Methodological Appendix”.

4 These estimates were calculated on the basis of what respondents told me about their assets, incomes, and debt, and are consequently very rough, especially given the delicacy of talking about these issues, and in some cases their lack of knowledge (real or feigned). (One woman said that my asking her about her assets – which turned out to be over $50 million – was like asking her if she masturbated). When possible I triangulated the numbers they gave me with publicly available data, especially on home purchases. These data and other patterns in their reporting led me to believe that respondents tended to underestimate rather than overestimate their assets (see Sherman R., 2017a).

5 This is primarily, I believe, because women who do not work for pay have more time for interviews, and because women were more likely to have been the primary actors in home renovation.

6 For reasons of confidentiality, I do not identify respondents by race/ethnicity when quoting them; readers should not assume they are white. See Sherman R., 2017a.

7 Notably, one of the two instances I could find in my data in which “entitled” is not used in an exclusively negative sense (Lareau A., 2011; Calarco J.M., 2014), came from an African American mother with a working-class background. This mother described noticing at her Ivy League college that the white students did feel “entitled” to attention from professors, and she wanted her kids to feel that way. She also recounted a feeling of dismay upon talking with other black parents at her child’s private school about the difficulties their children faced, and being struck by other parents’ reluctance to make waves. She told me, «I remember saying to people, ‘Wait a minute. … Our children need to feel entitled to be here, in the best sense of that word. We’re part of this. We shouldn’t be afraid’». It is not surprising that it should be a parent of color who would be more amenable to seeing the positive side of “feeling entitled”. (The other instance came from Kate, who was white; she described her partner, who had grown up with wealth, as “entitled” but “in the best sense”, meaning a kind of confidence that would allow her, for example, to speak up when she was being treated badly. She did not use this word as something she desired in her children, however).

8 For another discussion of the relation of “character” to merit, see Karabel J., 2005.

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Rachel Sherman, « Anxieties of Entitlement »Recherches sociologiques et anthropologiques, 51-1 | 2020, 61-86.

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Rachel Sherman, « Anxieties of Entitlement »Recherches sociologiques et anthropologiques [En ligne], 51-1 | 2020, mis en ligne le 28 septembre 2020, consulté le 25 novembre 2020. URL : http://journals.openedition.org/rsa/3878; DOI: https://doi.org/10.4000/rsa.3878

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Rachel Sherman

New School for Social Research, New York.

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