What Are You Worth?

by Miranda Marquit · 5 comments


Money is considered such an important part of our society that we are often judged according to how much we are worth — in terms of dollars. We see this everywhere, and we talk about ourselves in terms of net worth. When we get life insurance, we have to try and put a dollar amount on how much our lives are worth. Money is such a big part of our society that many stay at home spouses eagerly read estimates of how much everything they own might be worth on the market.

Money and Status

In a lot of ways, we equate money with status. It’s not anything new. We’ve been elevating people with more money to a higher social status for thousands of years. If you have enough money, you can buy influence, and sometimes even buy legal outcomes. Having money can, in some cases, help us feel good about ourselves. Many of us want to be rich.

Other people admire those with more money, and some people look down on those with less. When you have money, you have access to opportunities for education, better health care, high quality products, and entertainment. While those without money can also get access to many of these things, it might be more difficult, and require more work. After all, you have to acquire the money to get that access. Those who can afford to buy expensive things often enjoy a certain status in our society.

Of course, the desire to appear to have money is one of the issues that leads to debt. Because those with money are often accorded a higher status in society, it is only natural that we might want to look as though we have money. Using debt to purchase items that make it look like we have just as much money (and are just as “good”) as someone else can provide a sense of status that we may not have when living frugally and within our means.

Does Net Worth = True Personal Worth?

Most people would argue, though, that your net worth has nothing to do with your true worth as a human being. Everyone has worth, and it is mostly equal. Unfortunately, while such platitudes are often mouthed, it is practically impossible to overcome thousands of years of habits developed in a civilized society that says otherwise. It’s ingrained in us to think of those with money as our “betters”, even though being rich doesn’t always mean that you are happy. One thing the widespread use of credit has done is help us feel as though we are on a closer level, since it’s possible to have some of the trappings of comfort and wealth — even if we don’t have the money.

But what if we tried harder to get beyond that? Is there any way for us to turn platitudes about how we all have the same worth as people, no matter our net worth, into truth? It is probably best to start with ourselves. Consider you reactions when someone else has something you want. Or your reaction when you see someone with less. Do you have more or less respect for someone based on the outward appearance of wealth?

Once you have started to recognize your own feelings about money and status, you can begin to make changes so that you are less worried about keeping up with your neighbors — and less inclined to judge those who have less.

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{ 5 comments… read them below or add one }

Steve Jobs October 12, 2010 at 10:36 am

Net Worth does not equate to Personal Worth of a person. A person may have a high Net Worth but may have less Personal Worth. Personal Worth is your worth in the society you live in. How important you are in the community. Nevertheless, I agree that people must start seeing the person as the person not on what the person has on his pocket. There are lots of les privileged who are important to the community they live in.

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Mark October 22, 2010 at 2:04 pm

Great points Steve. An individual net worth has nothing to do with their value as a person. Insurance companies may be able to value a person based on their earnings but you cannot place a price to a person’s importance to their family and friends.

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Jenna October 12, 2010 at 12:42 pm

I think about all those students serving during City Year or entering the Peace Corps, while they aren’t making much money they have a huge worth to the communities they are interacting with. Same for teachers and service workers.

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David Leonhardt March 15, 2012 at 10:54 am

Funny how we all feel the need to quantify things. I will tell you how I know what I am worth – when my daughter says “I love you daddy.” And none of my assets, none of my voluminous debts, nothing else matters.

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Free Money Minute May 28, 2013 at 5:22 am

I agree. The hug of a child is priceless. The child does not have any knowledge or care as to how much money you have in the bank.

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