While the so-called “Apple tax” might not exist, researchers have found that owning an iPhone is a good indicator that someone is financially well-off.
Apple’s devices do tend to skew toward the premium end of the spectrum, but a paper written by economists at the University of Chicago have found that products designed in Cupertino — specifically, the iPhone — is a consistent symbol of wealth in the U.S.
“Across all years in our data, no individual brand is as predictive of being high-income as owning an Apple iPhone in 2016,” the researchers wrote.
There are, of course, caveats to the research. Someone doesn’t necessarily have to be rich to own an iPhone. But the economists found that if someone owned an iPhone in 2016, they had a 69 percent chance of correctly guessing that the person who owned it was “high-income.” For iPad owners, that percentage is around 67 percent.
The paper describes someone as “high-income” as an individual who is in the top quartile of income for household types (single, married, households with dependents, and so on).
It’s worth noting that owning a smartphone, in general, was itself an indication of being “high-income,” according to the study. Having an Android or using Verizon were also good indicators of a person’s wealth.
But one of the most interesting takeaways from the economists’ study is how status symbols have changed over time. Before the iPhone debuted in 2007, there were other indications that someone was high-income.
In 2004, Land O’ Lakes butter and Kikkoman soy sauce were decent predictors of higher-income households. Over a decade earlier, buying Gray Poupon mustard or Kodak film were both strong signs that a family was rich in 1992.
The University of Chicago economists, Marianne Bertrand and Emir Kamenica, used data from Mediamark Research Intelligence. The paper, which was published with the National Bureau of Economic Research, was meant to look at how the preferences of different groups of people differ over time.
Mediamark’s data had a sample size of 6,394 participants and included questionnaires carried out twice a year, and other household information gleaned via face-to-face interviews.
iPhones aren’t exactly cheap devices. Last year’s flagship iPhone X cost $999 — Apple’s most expensive handset to date. In other words, they can be seen as “luxury” products that tend to retail for more than competing devices.
But while new iPhones may carry a weighty price tag, they might also be a good investment. A research study by Newzoo last year found that 63 percent of all iPhones ever sold were still in use, including much older models.
There’s also evidence to suggest that Apple may be actively trying to lower the prices of its upcoming devices. The company is rumored to be developing cheaper iPhones, Macs, and possibly even a lower-cost HomePod.