What is Affluenza?

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  • Written By: wiseGEEK Writer
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  • Last Modified Date: 20 August 2019
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There are several definitions for the buzzword affluenza, which is a combination of the terms influenza and affluent. In some circles the term refers to a condition usually among the rich, young and idle who may feel lethargic and disconnected from society at large, even when they engage in aggressive spending. Nothing quite satisfies or makes such people happy.

Alternately, affluenza can be defined as the frustration, tiredness, or exhaustion people feel when they are constantly trying to keep up with the Joneses. Another way to describe affluenza is to consider it as social condition, whereby having too much and acquiring still more is contagious. It leaves people with the constant need to work harder, to get more things, and often it leaves them in debt so they have the appearance of having all the things that they need.

In the definitions of affluenza, the condition can be viewed as a criticism on the affluent, or those trying to appear so, and on capitalism in general. Yet some psychologists and social scientists do see the term as legitimate social phenomenon, especially in American and other western societies. When personal value is measured by what you have, can get, or want to work for, it can be challenging thing, and some see a definite trend of affluenza becoming increasingly contagious.


The condition, according to those who have researched it, becomes especially troubling when there are certain members of the society who cannot get material items with as much ease. When great economic divides exist, the whole society may be harmed if those with the least available capital begin to resent those with the most. Those with very little may far overspend their budgets on things they really don’t need and can’t afford.

Some consideration too of how helpful it is to have “everything” is valuable. People who purchased homes from subprime lenders for instance, were convinced of their right to have things that they mainly couldn’t afford, and the result has been tangibly obvious in the US, with many people losing their homes and their credit ratings. It isn’t that people trying to get a home were by any means greedy, but having a home may have been a contagious method of trying to keep up with the Joneses, although many people are simply priced out of the US housing market. Subprime lenders preyed on this desire for security or equalization, and convinced many that they could afford things that were really far outside of their income capacity.

The popularity of the term affluenza is often credited to John de Graaf, who produced a documentary and a book in the condition in the late 1990s. De Graaf primarily defined the word as the contagious illness that was creating mountains of debt, overwork and addiction to spending. These things certainly can create real anxiety for people, and if even some people “suffer” from the illness, it would be hard to know what might be the real psychological results in a recession or depression as the US faced in 2008. It may be very hard for people to lose material things or ability to spend when they measure self worth by these things.


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