It’s time to talk about the Friendship Wealth Gap.
Every Friends fan worth their salt will remember The One With Five Steaks And An Eggplant. What do you mean, you don’t? Think back to the second season, when Rachel (Jennifer Aniston), Phoebe (Lisa Kudrow) and Joey (Matt Le Blanc) get to talking about the fact that Ross (David Schwimmer), Monica (Courteney Cox) and Chandler (Matthew Perry) are a) earning way more money than them, and b) don’t seem to be aware of that fact at all.
Things come to a head when the richer Friends head off to a Hootie and the Blowfish concert without the others, who can’t afford tickets (and who dismiss the idea of Monica and the others buying theirs as “charity”). But, this being the happy world of Central Perk and gorgeous rent-control Manhattan apartments, the gang eventually reconcile and immediately forget the money argument – which literally never comes up again during the show’s 10-series run.
In the real world, though, things aren’t quite so easy. In fact, an independent study of over 1,000 people has released new research revealing how differences in wealth can affect our best friendships.
Read more: In defence of Friends
The study, facilitated by independent survey provider, Vivatic, quizzed 1,000 people on their experiences with their wealthier and worse-off friends to see how differing finances can tear even the strongest relationships apart.
Shockingly, the report found that well over a third (39%) of richer Britons have cut ties with hard-up friends due to incompatible lifestyles, suggesting that the material appeal of champagne brunches and designer labels are more important than close emotional bonds.
The research also showed that richer people categorically prefer to surround themselves with friends of a similar pay-bracket, with nearly half (46%) saying that they deliberately try to socialise with people of equal means.
To add insult to injury, the study reveals that more than a third, (36%), of the well-heeled feel smug about being better off than their friends, implying that the UK’s disappointing wage growth has made for even steeper competition between friends to be successful.
Of those that make it into the upper echelons of the pay hierarchy, an overwhelming majority (69%) also report feeling more confident because of their new found cash. At the other end of the spectrum, 64% of lower earners say their lack of money causes them stress, showing the psychological divide that wealth can cause.
And, besides extra cash acting as a catalyst for snobbery and self-assurance, the study revealed that higher earners are actually more uncomfortable than poorer people when talking about their wealth with their clique.
No wonder, then, that nearly half (43%) of lower earners secretly think that their richer friends’ money has not brought them happiness.
Hannah Whitfield, who headed up this research for Expert Market comments: “Our study shows that money, or the lack thereof, is a key factor in friendship groups and that people are much more likely to pal up with people on a similar wage bracket.
“Money matters can make for uncomfortable situations when splitting bills or planning a holiday with friends and it seems people on both sides of the spectrum would rather avoid the issue and choose to hang out with people with a similar income.
Whitfield adds: “It would be nice to think that strong friendships transcend material things, but what you earn does appear to be a huge factor that can make or break a friendship.”
So how do we bridge the Friendship Wage Gap? By banishing these judgments and disassociating your income from your identity, says Kathleen Gurney, Ph.D., CEO of Financial Psychology Corp.
Speaking to Bankrate.com, Gurney advises that, if you’re the friend with the lower income, you need to “resist feeling less-than because you earn less” – and vice versa to the wealthier among us.
“Keep money out of the personal dynamics as much as possible,” she adds, and try to “participate in activities that can be achieved easily by both parties.”
Above all else, she says, make sure you “remember why you are friends, and keep those sentiments in the forefront of how you treat one another.” And remember: the best things in life are free.
Lead image: Doctor Macro/Gentlemen Prefer Blondes/Alessia Armenise