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The poorer we feel, the more meat we eat

What it means: Some Australian scientists recently did a bunch of experimentsand found that when people feel poor, they want to eat more meat. While studies like this, which mainly worked with university students, should always be taken with a pinch of salt (and some brown sauce), the researchers' conclusion that people treat meat as a status symbol does match up with previous studies that find people lower down the socioeconomic food chain are more likely to buy big status items, like flashy cars.

It’s now pretty widely accepted that lots of meat eating (especially red meat) is bad for our health and our environment. Sicker people and a sicker planet have knock-on effects on our economy. Ill people are unhappier, and work less. Lots more ill and out-of-work people requires lots more government money to be spent on healthcare and welfare. Animal farmland destroys the habitats of wild species. Climate change (partly caused by burping cows) causes weather that damages property and hurts people: flooding, stronger hurricanes, droughts, etc.

So if people do eat more meat the poorer they feel, economists and governments have an extra incentive to stop people feeling poor. Which in practice probably means doing something about wealth inequality, because people tend to judge how well-off they are by looking at other people around them. And they might want to get on that sharpish, because at the moment most people think wealth inequality is growing around the world.

Read our explainers on social mobility and environmental economics.

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