Washington, D.C., was named the snobbiest city on the East Coast and ranked seventh nationally in a survey from RoadSnacks, a regional-data information website.
The survey, published Nov. 11, compiled information using designated affluence indicators including income, home prices, education levels, theaters and Whole Foods Market stores per capita.
Georgetown sociology professor and affluence researcher Peter Cookson said that D.C.’s position as the only East Coast city on the list of 10 represents the country’s shift in wealth away from the region and transformation of elite culture.
“In previous times, being snobby was associated with being East Coast, going to the right school. You didn’t have to be fabulously wealthy but you had to be affluent,” Cookson said. “So much of the money has shifted to the West Coast, and I think there’s a different culture there. So the definition of snobby changes a little bit. It has more to do with lifestyle. You could be a billionaire in Silicon Valley and maybe not even graduate from high school.”
Cookson said that understanding D.C.’s history is essential to making sense of the city as it is now.
“During the ‘70s and ‘80s, it was actually kind of a poor city and a lot of businesses were closed up along Pennsylvania Avenue. It was small. There were no outdoor cafes like there are now,” Cookson said. “Since then, it’s become much more cosmopolitan and sort of European.”
According to Cookson, an influx of ambitious young homeowners has resulted in a culture shift, with the city now revolving around its culture of professionalism, which many deem the cornerstone of its snobby reputation.
“You have this sense of competition and excitement, located throughout, but primarily on Capitol Hill and obviously the White House,” Cookson said.
Additionally, Cookson said that although the survey measured average income, an accumulated-wealth factor is missing.
“If you did an accumulated-wealth dimension, New York would certainly win. I mean, D.C. is not even in the same category as New York,” Cookson said. “New York is still the Mecca for really, really big money.”
Sophia Anwar, who moved to D.C. in 2014 and serves as legislative correspondent for Congresswoman Brenda Lawrence (D-M), disagreed with the snobby label attributed to the District. She argued that it stems from misperceptions of the city’s fast-paced and professional atmosphere.
“I don’t think it’s snobby. I think it’s just a very, I don’t want to say exclusive, but because everyone lives kind of the same type of lifestyle here, we’re very in tune to the way that D.C. works,” Anwar said. “That can sometimes be hard to grasp if you don’t also work or live in the District.”
Anwar attributed the snobby reputation of the city to the focus on networking and scheduling, emphasizing that this might be intimidating to young professionals.
“These people have really busy schedules. So I think that can be sometimes daunting,” Anwar said. “People think that other people are blowing them off or being snobby, but in fact they’re just really busy.”
Priya Bhaidaswala (MSB ’17) objected to the use of the label and the potentially negative associations that accompany it.
“I’d say snobby usually indicates a sense of being better than others,” Bhaidaswala said. “And then that betterness is usually portrayed through elitist behavior, like not being inclusive, interactions that show a divide between people.”
Bhaidaswala also said she was surprised at the survey’s results and disagreed with its conclusion.
“I don’t think that D.C. is snobby. There are a lot of nonprofits and charities and such,” Bhaidaswala said. “People who are working for these companies, even though paid well, usually want some kind of social impact or work for the greater good.”
Cookson also pointed to the possible benefits of the label, including perceived prestige and, consequently, higher location values.
“I think, not to be facetious, that it helps real estate a great deal. I think people buy real estate based on location,” Cookson said. “If they think it’s an affluent, snobby neighborhood, then the real estate values will increase.”
Cookson added that the humorous nature of the report could minimize the importance of class differences in these cities.
“It kind of is a little misleading, the snobby label, because it sort of makes it all fun,” Cookson said. “But class differences matter in people’s lives.”