We cannot verify your location
Browse Book and Journal Content on Project MUSE

Envy Up, Scorn Down

How Status Divides Us

Susan T. Fiske

Publication Year: 2011

The United States was founded on the principle of equal opportunity for all, and this ethos continues to inform the nation’s collective identity. In reality, however, absolute equality is elusive. The gap between rich and poor has widened in recent decades, and the United States has the highest level of economic inequality of any developed country. Social class and other differences in status reverberate throughout American life, and prejudice based on another’s perceived status persists among individuals and groups. In Envy Up, Scorn Down, noted social psychologist Susan Fiske examines the psychological underpinnings of interpersonal and intergroup comparisons, exploring why we compare ourselves to those both above and below us and analyzing the social consequences of such comparisons in day-to-day life. What motivates individuals, groups, and cultures to envy the status of some and scorn the status of others? Who experiences envy and scorn most? Envy Up, Scorn Down marshals a wealth of recent psychological studies as well as findings based on years of Fiske’s own research to address such questions. She shows that both envy and scorn have distinctive biological, emotional, cognitive, and behavioral characteristics. And though we are all “wired” for comparison, some individuals are more vulnerable to these motives than others. Dominant personalities, for example, express envy toward high-status groups such as the wealthy and well-educated, and insecurity can lead others to scorn those perceived to have lower status, such as women, minorities, or the disabled. Fiske shows that one’s race or ethnicity, gender, and education all correlate with perceived status. Regardless of whether one is accorded higher or lower status, however, all groups rank their members, and all societies rank the various groups within them. We rate each group as either friend or foe, able or unable, and accordingly assign them the traits of warmth or competence. The majority of groups in the United States are ranked either warm or competent but not both, with extreme exceptions: the homeless or the very poor are considered neither warm nor competent. Societies across the globe view older people as warm but incompetent. Conversely, the very rich are generally considered cold but highly competent. Envy Up, Scorn Down explores the nuances of status hierarchies and their consequences and shows that such prejudice in its most virulent form dehumanizes and can lead to devastating outcomes—from the scornful neglect of the homeless to the envious anger historically directed at Tutsis in Rwanda or Jews in Europe. Individuals, groups, and even cultures will always make comparisons between and among themselves. Envy Up, Scorn Down is an accessible and insightful examination of drives we all share and the prejudice that can accompany comparison. The book deftly shows that understanding envy and scorn—and seeking to mitigate their effects—can prove invaluable to our lives, our relationships, and our society.

Published by: Russell Sage Foundation

Title Page, Copyright

pdf iconDownload PDF


pdf iconDownload PDF
pp. v-vi

About the Author

pdf iconDownload PDF
pp. vii-viii

read more


pdf iconDownload PDF
pp. ix-x

In the United States today we are divided by envy and scorn, brought on by the status concerns that pervade our society. Income inequality, now at historically high levels, aggravates these status divides. Many of us envy those above us in status and scorn those below us, but whether we are the object of these comparisons or the person making them, feelings...

read more

1. Comparing Ourselves to Others: Envy and Scorn Divide Us

pdf iconDownload PDF
pp. 1-27

We are constantly comparing ourselves with others, and comparison is only natural. Even dogs and chimps do it, as we will see. At the same time, comparisons divide and depress us by making us envy those above us and discount those below us. So why do we persist in making comparisons? Could we harness this tendency so that...

read more

2. Signatures of Envy and Scorn: We Know Them When We See Them

pdf iconDownload PDF
pp. 28-55

The signs of envy and scorn are everywhere because the vertical dimension is everywhere. The vertical dimension, “ambition’s ladder,” is a necessary part of any human system. Group-living animals all have hierarchies. Even chickens have pecking orders. Coordination demands it. Stability demands it. Adjustment demands it. Despite the...

read more

3. Who Cares About Comparisons?

pdf iconDownload PDF
pp. 56-78

Considering that scorn is just as socially imprudent to reveal as envy is, evidence of our inner drama indeed is uncommon. Yet as the last chapter argued, we know these emotions when we see them, and they are everywhere. Unpleasant as they may be, we all share the experiences of comparison that give rise to them. We cannot help...

read more

4. Why Do We Compare? Comparison Informs Us

pdf iconDownload PDF
pp. 79-93

We all need to know where we stand, especially in those “moments when what we thought we knew, about our lives, about our careers, [our relationships, our appearance, our health] comes into contact with a threatening sort of reality.” Life requires that our self-view at least approximately fit our reality, not to mention our...

read more

5. Why Do We Compare? Comparison Protects Us

pdf iconDownload PDF
pp. 94-113

Sometimes we want to know where we stand, but sometimes we just want to feel “bright by comparison.” Besides evaluating and perhaps improving ourselves, we would like to feel good.1 Self-esteem is a less lofty goal than being informed, but we all need to feel good enough to get out of bed in the morning...

read more

6. Why Do We Compare? Comparison Helps Us Fit into Our Groups

pdf iconDownload PDF
pp. 114-137

Aristotle was among the first to tell us that we are profoundly collective beings. We prefer to be included: “We’d love you to join us” may be one of the most compelling human appeals. As chapter 3 noted, we have good adaptive reasons to be with others: we survive and thrive better if we are social than if we are isolates. Exclusion literally...

read more

7. Beyond Comparison: Transforming Envy and Scorm

pdf iconDownload PDF
pp. 138-164

Faculty meetings are famous for fights over the finer points of petty procedures. Academics like to quote an aphorism attributed to Henry Kissinger: University politics are so vicious because the stakes are so small. But not just the professoriate jockeys for position when placed in groups. Toddlers do it, dogs do it, chimps do it. All of us rank ourselves relative...


pdf iconDownload PDF
pp. 165-190


pdf iconDownload PDF
pp. 191-230


pdf iconDownload PDF
pp. 231-246

E-ISBN-13: 9781610447096
Print-ISBN-13: 9780871544643

Page Count: 224
Publication Year: 2011

OCLC Number: 808778109
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Envy Up, Scorn Down

Research Areas


UPCC logo

Subject Headings

  • Equality -- United States.
  • Comparison (Psychology).
  • Class consciousness -- United States.
  • Social classes -- United States.
  • Envy.
  • You have access to this content
  • Free sample
  • Open Access
  • Restricted Access