How ‘money dysmorphia’ is driving Gen Z into debt

Recent research has revealed that almost half of young people today are obsessed with the idea of being rich because they’re comparing themselves to wealthy social media influencers. And, in an attempt to keep up, they’re making poor financial decisions and spending far beyond their means.

Thred Media
3 min readFeb 6, 2024

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According to recent research from Qualtrics, almost half of young people today are obsessed with the idea of being rich.

Findings show that 44 per cent of Gen Z feels this way, compared to the average of 27 per cent among other demographics.

This, as the study explains, is a result of social media’s influence, namely the wealthy content creators on platforms like TikTok, YouTube, and Instagram who continuously rub their lavish lifestyles in the faces of their dedicated followers with videos of designer clothing hauls, luxury trips abroad, and sports car collections worth a decade of rent.

While setting unrealistic standards and flaunting affluence is nothing new, it’s only during the last few years that the repercussions of doing so online have become known.

With comparison culture rife — and Gen Zers all too familiar with its grasp — more and more young people are ignoring their bank balances and spending far beyond their means as they aspire to have what the Internet personalities they look up to (and ironically fund) have.

‘All day long, we absorb messages from what we read, hear and see around us. Some of us may be more susceptible than others to these messages, but most of us internalise them in some shape or form,’ says BACP accredited counsellor, Georgina Sturmer.

‘So if we are bombarded with images and stories about spending, saving, salaries and consumption, this can influence the judgements that we make about our own money. We might feel more compelled to make a specific purchase, or to live beyond our means, in order to live up to the images that we see online.’

Termed ‘money dysmorphia,’ this phenomenon is defined as ‘having a distorted view of one’s finances that could lead to poor decisions.’

By triggering the same emotions as body dysmorphia (which causes intense anxiety over perceived physical flaws) including shame, guilt, and worry, it’s landing a growing number of Gen Zers — 48 per cent of whom also reported to Qualtrics that they felt swamped or behind on their financial goals — in debt.

It’s yet another blow to those who were already struggling on the back of the buy now, pay later schemes which emerged in 2020 to entice cash-strapped, teenage consumers into getting what they wanted, when they wanted, regardless of whether or not it was financially viable.

‘Social media has convinced kids that they should have vacations on the Amalfi Coast, Louis Vuitton Bags, and an HGTV kitchen before they’ve earned it,’ says Ted Jenkin, CEO of oXYGen Financial.

‘As we continue to struggle through the cost of living crisis, when prices for essentials are rising and wages are stagnating, the vast majority can’t afford to emulate the big spenders they follow.’

Originally written by Sofia Phillips for Thred.

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