Gangnam Style in America

by Sean Bryant on September 14, 2012


If you have been online or watched TV in the past week, then you have probably watched the South Korean music video Gangnam Style by Psy. The video has gone viral and as of this morning had been viewed by over 167 million people.

The video depicts a lifestyle of one of South Korea’s wealthiest neighborhoods, “Gangnam.” As of 2010, it accounted for $84 billion or 7 percent of the countries GDP. The kids live flashy lifestyles, showing off everything they possibly can. Fancy cars, bright jewelry and designer clothes. Don’t be mistaken though, because they are not self-made millionaires, instead they are your typical trust-fund babies. They seldom know the value of a dollar (in their case the value of a won) and it shows with the way they spend.

Most people might believe that Americans are free spenders with their credit cards, but South Koreans are even worse. In 2010, South Koreans had an average credit card balance worth 155 percent of their disposable income. This compares to just 138 percent for Americans.

In the 1990’s, my wife actually lived in South Korea for three years, before this stereotypical Gangnam lifestyle really began. A couple of weeks ago, my father-in-law was back to South Korea for work and said things have really changed in Seoul. Before, businessmen would dress in typical middle-class business attire of dress shirts and slacks. Now they have adopted the hip, laid back Silicon Valley lifestyle of shorts and flip-flops. This change in lifestyle is now evident in their spending habits. Long gone are the conservative spending days, now it’s all about freely spending on anything.

This Gangnam lifestyle is also very evident in the way a lot of Americans live their lives. People love to have the newest and hottest items on the market. Just today the new iPhone 5 was released and millions of Americans will be ordering one even if they don’t really need the upgrade.

Before the housing bubble burst we saw millions of Americans in houses bigger than they needed or could reasonably afford. Too many people feel that bigger is indeed better when it comes to their living space. This trend is made even more apparent by witnessing celebrity culture, as they make people think it’s normal for a two person family to have a 6 bedroom, 7 bathroom house with a theater in the basement.

Most people associate material items as a status symbol. This isn’t entirely false because most wealthy individuals will be driving a nice car and wearing designer clothes. This doesn’t mean the average individual needs to live that way if they can’t afford it.

In a June article, CNN said that from 2007 and 2010 the average American families net worth dropped 40 percent from $126,400 to $77,300. Because of this huge drop you would think that people would cut back on their spending and begin living within their means. Unfortunately, that isn’t the case for most. No matter if you are South Korean or from the United States, we need to do a better job of maintaining our spending. If not for ourselves we need to do it as an example for our children.

Are any of you guilty of Living a Gangnam lifestyle at some point of your life?

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Sean Bryant

Sean Bryant created in 2011 to help pass along his knowledge of finance and economics to others. After graduating from the University of Iowa with a degree in economics he worked as a construction superintendent before jumping into the world of finance. Sean has worked on the trade desk for a commodities brokerage firm, he was a project manager for an investment research company and was a CDO analyst at a big bank. That being said he brings a good understanding of the finance field to the One Smart Dollar community. When not working Sean and his wife are avid world travelers. He enjoys spending time with his two kids and dog Charlie.

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