Skip to navigationSkip to content
IDENTITY CHECK

In the early 1990s, you could tell a rich person by whether they bought Grey Poupon. Now, it’s an iPhone.

Man holding two iPhones
Reuters/Issei Kato
Status symbols.
By Dan Kopf
Published Last updated This article is more than 2 years old.

The US is so polarized that people hardly live in the same country any more. Beyond differing political views, they don’t watch the same TV shows, buy the same brands, or read the same media.

Right?

Wrong, and there is research to prove it. University of Chicago economists Marianne Bertrand and Emir Kamenica have produced a deeply researched study on whether people in the US have diverged culturally over the past half century. They haven’t, really.

Using survey data on the brands Americans buy, the beliefs they hold, the movies and TV they watch, and the ways they spend their time, the researchers tested how well they can predict someone’s income, race, and political views (pdf). Specifically, they were interested in whether it is easier to use this data to make predictions today than it was in decades past. If it is easier, they say, it means that Americans of different socioeconomic groups have grown further apart when it comes to how they experience the world.

Bertrand and Kamenica find that Americans are quite different, but that gulf is not widening. Knowing the TV shows someone watches or the shampoo they prefer tells you no more about their income or race than it used to. One exception is that cultural beliefs and attitudes—like whether premarital sex is wrong or whether the US is spending enough on defense—now better predict someone’s politics than in the past.

It’s significant and topical research, to be sure, but it’s also one of the more fun economics papers you will read. Beyond the usual methodological details, the authors have listed the products, opinions, and media that best predict someone’s background. It is funny, surprising, and sometimes sad. Here are some of our favorite nuggets from the research…

💰 Watching these TV shows was the most predictive of a high income in 2016*

The Super Bowl
57.1
Love It Or List It
55.9
Property Brothers
55.7
House Hunters
55.5
The Academy Awards
55.3
NCAA Men’s Final Four
54.9
Flip or Flop
54.9
The Masters
54.8
Saturday Night Live Specials
54.3
The Grammy Awards
53.9

*High income is defined as being in the top 25% of Americans. For this analysis, the researchers only tried to predict if someone was in the top 25% or bottom 25%—those in the middle 50% were left out.

** In the this table and the ones following, percent accuracy represents the accuracy with which you could predict someone belonging to a group only knowing this one piece of information and nothing else.

💰 Using these brands was the most predictive of a high income in 1992 and 2016

Grey Poupon Dijon mustard
62.2
iPhone
69.1
Kodak film
61.6
iPad
66.9
Thomas’s English muffin
61.5
Verizon Wireless
61
Cascade-Lemon dish detergent
59.0
Android phone
59.5
Scotch Magic tape
58.7
Kikkoman soy sauce
59
Cut-Rite waxed paper
57.7
HP printer/fax machine
58.2
Philadelphia cream cheese
57.7
AT&T cellular network
58.1
Kikkoman soy sauce
57.5
Samsung TV set
58
Hellmann’s mayonnaise
57.4
Cascade Complete dish detergent
57.6
Sylvania TV set
57.4
Ziploc plastic bags
57.5

🙋‍♂️ Seeing or not seeing these movies was the most predictive of being male in 1998, 2007, and 2016

Didn’t see First Wives Club
56.0
Saw King Kong
52.4
Saw John Wick
52.7
Didn’t see The Mirror Has Two Faces
54.0
Saw Transporter 2
52.3
Saw Interstellar
52.6
Didn’t see The Preacher’s Wife
53.7
Saw Didn’t see In Her Shoes
52.3
Saw Fury
52.2
Didn’t see Dalmatians
53.6
Saw Underworld: Evolution
52.1
Didn’t see Gone Girl
51.9
Didn’t see One Fine Day
53.4
Saw X-Men: The Last Stand
51.9
Didn’t see Annie
51.9
Didn’t see My Best Friend’s Wedding
53.0
Saw The Legend of Zorro
51.8
Saw The Hobbit
51.8
Didn’t see Jerry Maguire
53.0
Saw A History of Violence
51..7
Saw Guardian of the Galaxy
51.8
Didn’t see Fly Away Home
53.0
Saw Firewall
51.7
Saw The Equalizer
51.7
Didn’t see The English Patient
52.0
Saw Mission Impossible 3
51.6
Didn’t see Into the Woods
51.7
Didn’t see Michael
52.0
Didn’t see The Family Stone
51.6
Saw Mad Max
51.5

🙋‍♂️ These cultural traits, actions, or beliefs were the most predictive of being male in 2016

Seen X-rated movie in last year
61.8
Not afraid to walk at night
60.2
Porn should not be illegal to all
57.9
Too little spending on space exploration
57.8
Not confident in banks
57
Trusts people
57.5
Approve of police striking citizens
55.8
Spending on health care is adequate
55.6
Own pistol/revolver in home
55.4
Favor gun permits
55.4

👨🏻 These TV shows and brands were the most predictive of being white in 2016

Saw Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer
55.8
Verizon Wireless
60.2
Saw Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade
55.6
Thomas’ English muffin
58.6
Saw American Pickers
55.5
Shout laundry pre-treatment
56.8
Saw The Big Bang Theory
54.8
Sweet Baby Ray’s barbeque sauce
56.5
Saw How the Grinch Stole Christmas
54.6
Vlasic pickles
56.4
Saw Saturday Night Live Specials
54.6
Arm & Hammer baking soda
56
Saw Dick Clark’s New Year Rockin’ Eve
54.3
Scotch transparent tape
55.9
Saw Charlie Brown Specials
54.2
French’s Classic Yellow mustard
55.8
Didn’t see the NBA All Star Game
54.2
Windex glass/sruface cleaner
55.8
Saw the Kentucky Derby
54.1
Stove top stuffing mix
55.8

⬅ These magazines or cultural actions were the most predictive of being liberal in 2009

Read Vanity Fair
54.9
Not own a fishing rod
56.9
Read Rolling Stone
54.6
Not own fishing lures/hooks
56.8
Read Vogue
54.0
Not own a fishing reel
56.7
Read The New Yorker
53.8
Own any vehicle
56.5
Didn’t read Reader’s Digest
53.0
Didn’t use frozen bread/dough
56.3
Didn’t read Field & Stream
52.9
Drank any alcoholic beverage
56.2
Read Time
52.9
Bought a novel
56.2
Read People
52.8
Didn’t use ranch salad dressing
56.2
Read Glamour
52.7
Didn’t use disposable plates
56
Read O, The Oprah Magazine
52.7
Not own other fishing equipments
55.8

📬 Kick off each morning with coffee and the Daily Brief (BYO coffee).

By providing your email, you agree to the Quartz Privacy Policy.