I never thought that there were different types of rich people depending on their wealth source until I read F. Scott Fitzgerald’s “The Great Gatsby” for a school project. In the novel, Gatsby is portrayed as the “new money” — a wealthy man who earned all his money through illegal ways and held extravagant parties to show off his wealth and success, but eventually faced a tragic ending. The other characters, portrayed as the “old money,” were able to get away with their actions.
Lately, in many TikTok reels and internet communities, people will compare those who were born into traditionally wealthy families with those who got rich in adulthood. People have started distinguishing old money and new money again, but with stereotypes for each group. Now, according to popular perception, the new money people have no class; they do not value higher education, lack dignity and are just spoiled brats. They show off their riches by wearing luxurious clothes, hold extravagant parties and treat other people with no respect. It is likely that they used expedients and illegal routes in the process of accumulating their wealth. Otherwise, how else could they be rich so fast? On the other hand, the old money appear to live up to their beliefs and morals and do not show off how rich they are because, as people claim on the internet, they are highly educated and value manners and etiquette. Their wealth is honestly-sourced and deserved.
I find these relatively new stereotypes for both groups interesting and thought about why and how they were formed. I feel that this phenomenon may indicate that the hope of climbing up the ladder of success is dying. Many people came to the United States in hope of living the American dream and reversing their family’s economic hardships in one generation. On the contrary, statistics now show that this is getting harder to achieve over time, suggesting the hope that you can work hard and develop the skills to fit into this society is today considered a naive thought and illusion. People no longer believe that they can live a better life or be equal to their parents’ generation. Because of this hopeless situation, people may find comfort in pointing their fingers at those who were able to successfully climb the ladder in a relatively short time. These stereotypes can be based on a lot of people’s experiences and encounters, but may also come from feelings of inferiority and entitlement.
I found these claims to not only focus on economic and social statuses, but also on a person’s character and work ethic. I feel it is odd when people think that “your parents must have loved and cared for you a lot” is a compliment and praise their parents’ jobs, if they studied abroad, and so forth. This is shown a lot when people discuss celebrity backgrounds and relates to the current issues surrounding “nepo babies” in the entertainment industry. Why are we more interested in one’s background than their acquired efforts, and why is it so important to claim that they were already generationally wealthy instead of acknowledging their hard work? Why should we be evaluated by something we cannot control?
Going back to the “Great Gatsby” reference, while both old and new monied groups were criticized by the writer, the criticism tilted in different directions throughout the time. When I was reading the book a few years ago, the old money, or the people against Gatsby, were more criticized for their hypocrisy. Nowadays, I feel like people are focusing more on Gatsby’s lifestyle and how he pretty much deserved his ending.
It is true that those who were born with benefits have an advantage over those who do not in this society. However, it is not right to disregard one’s unavoidable deficiency. What makes a person successful is their effort and process, not just their parents’ money.