keep up

Keeping up with the Joneses

"Keeping up with the Joneses" is a popular catchphrase in many parts of the English-speaking world. It refers to the desire to be seen as being as good as one's neighbours or contemporaries using the comparative benchmarks of social caste or the accumulation of material goods. To fail to "keep up with the Joneses" is perceived as demonstrating socio-economic or cultural inferiority.

A related British phrase is "keeping up appearances", which is also the title of a British sitcom on this theme.


The origin of this phrase is rooted in the popular comic strip of the same name created by cartoonist Arthur R. "Pop" Momand. The strip debuted in 1916 in the New York World, but strips appear in collections dated as early as April 1, 1913. The strip ran in American newspapers for 28 years, and was eventually adapted into books, films, and musical comedies. The "Joneses" of the title were neighbors of the strip's main characters, and were spoken of but never actually seen in person.

Social effects

The philosophy of "keeping up with the Joneses" has widespread effects on society. According to this philosophy, conspicuous consumption occurs when "households care about their relative standard of living" in relation to their societal peers.

According to Roger Mason, "the demand for status goods, fueled by conspicuous consumption, has diverted many resources away from investment in the manufacture of more material goods and services in order to satisfy consumer preoccupations with their relative social standing and prestige.

Social status once depended on ones' family name; however, the rise of consumerism in the United States gave rise to social mobility. With the increasing availability of goods, people became more inclined to define themselves by what they possessed and the subtle quest for higher status accelerated. Conspicuous consumption and materialism have been an insatiable juggernaut ever since. The desire to increase one's position in the social hierarchy is responsible for much of the social mobility in America. The upward mobility over the past few decades in America is due in part to the large number of women joining the labor force. U.S. women have slowly and steadily increased their participation in the labor force from 46 percent of all women (age 16+) in 1974 to almost 60 percent in 2004.

In addition, the number of college graduates are at an all time high. Between 1995 and 2005, the number of full time college students increased by 33 percent. College enrollment hit a projected record level of 18 million in 2007. Between 2007 and 2016, enrollment is expected to increase by 14 percent. With more people receiving higher levels of education, and more women entering the labor force, the upward mobility in America continues to climb; however, right alongside it has risen the degree to which these people want to consume things which will keep them at the same level in the social hierarchy as their peers.

One area in which "living above ones' means" has caused negative social effects is that of credit card usage. In the first quarter of 2002, total credit debt was $660 billion. Total credit card debt was approximately $60 billion. By 2005, the total credit card debt had increased to $735 billion. Americas' average credit card debt in 2007 was $8400 per household. By the end of 2007, consumer debt in America had risen to $2.5 trillion. According to the Federal Reserve, over 40% of households spend more than they earn.

Another recent example is the 2007 subprime mortgage financial crisis, in which credit was eagerly extended to homebuyers who were unable to afford the homes that they were purchasing.

Film, television, music and games

The tagline for the 1989 film Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade was "Have the adventure of your life keeping up with the Joneses", in reference to the title character and his father. A cue on the film's soundtrack was called "Keeping up with the Joneses".

In The Simpsons, there are numerous references to this concept, especially in the feud between Homer Simpson and Ned Flanders.

Trumpet player Dizzy Gillespie's 1964 jazz album Jambo Caribe features a song called "Don't Try to Keep Up With the Joneses". It tells the story of an argument between a man and his wife, who is jealous of her neighbor's wealth. One verse states: "We used to have a joint account / ZERO! is now the amount / you spent it all on fancy clothes / and shoes with open toes."

Country singer Waylon Jennings's 1977 song "Luckenbach, Texas (Back to the Basics of Love)" featured the line "We've been so busy keepin' up with the Joneses, four car garage and we're still building on, maybe it's time we got back to the basics of love".

The film Keeping Up with the Steins is based on the same theme, but refers to competition for a bar mitzvah celebration that is better than those held by friends and family.


"Keeping up with the Gateses" is a modern variation of this phrase. It refers to the desire to live a lifestyle comparable to the multi-billionaire Microsoft founder Bill Gates and his wife Melinda Gates. Such desires are fueled by the portrayal of the spending habits of the rich on television and in magazines. Many attempt to adopt some aspect of this high-end lifestyle despite the lack of comparable personal income.

A British variation is "Keeping up with the Beckhams". This refers to a desire to have a lifestyle similar to David Beckham and his wife Victoria as portrayed on television and in celebrity magazines. Another variation is "spend it like Beckham", a reference to the film Bend It Like Beckham.

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