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