Forget Mercedes, Louis Vuitton or Rolex. The one product that tells rich from poor is an Apple iPhone.
Seriously? Cue protests from stereotype-hating Android users.
But findings from two University of Chicago economists who produced the National Bureau of Economic Research working paper suggest that the iPhone is the number one way to guess if someone is rich.
Accordingly 69.1% of respondents with an iPhone were defined as being in the top quartile of households by income.
In other words, there is no individual brand as accurately predictive of its owner being in a high-income bracket than an Apple iPhone, based on 2016 data.
The iPhone beat other brand categories such as the iPad (66.3%) and Verizon Wireless (61%), based on 6,394 respondents to the questionnaires of Mediamark Research Intelligence.
In 2015, Land O’Lakes regular butter topped the high-income brand stakes with 59.2%, followed by 58.7% for Kikkoman soy sauce.
Meanwhile the use of Android devices is also a strong indicator of wealth. Some 59.5% of people using Android phones are among households with the highest incomes.
But Apple, the world’s most valuable brand, rated worth US$182.8 billion by Forbes this year, remains in the ascendancy.
The brand may become even more dominant in years to come, as the iPhone X and its follow-ups continue to sell almost as fast as the company can produce them, even while prices continue to rise.
Thus it seems increasingly fair to state that only the rich can afford new Apple phones.
The same finding applies to China, given the rapid expansion of its middle class – and how many of them seek to be seen carrying an iPhone.
Meanwhile, competitors Huawei and Xiaomi market models strikingly similar to the iPhone X, which sell at half the price. These phones are finding fans among income groups below those who gravitate towards Apple products.