Named a Book of the Year by the Economist

“This is the cultural elite — or what Elizabeth Currid-Halkett..calls the “aspirational class”. Her book The Sum of Small Things anatomises it using fascinating American consumption data….Her intellectual ancestor Thorstein Veblen, in his 1899 study The Theory of the Leisure Class, portrayed Wasps frittering away money, but today’s cultural elite is engaged in a ruthless project to reproduce its social position… No wonder the key rite of cultural-elite conversation has become Trump-dissing… And so the cultural wars that got him elected rage on.”

— Simon Kuper, The Financial Times

“Her theory is a breath of fresh air…What makes Currid-Halkett’s argument powerful is that she mines the data to prove that the members of this group are passing on their privilege to their children in just as pernicious a way as the old aristocrats passed on their estates and titles.”

— Harry Wallop, The Times of London

“Exploring how the consumer choices of today’s ‘aspirational class’ express identity and values yet reinforce social exclusivity and economic status, Elizabeth Currid-Halkett’s lively book offers a thoroughly researched and fair-minded update to Veblen’s classic look at the leisure class. Eschewing mockery and polemics, The Sum of Small Things challenges readers to think hard about culture and consumption in a postscarcity economy.”

— Virginia Postrel, author of The Power of Glamour

“‘Organic’, ‘artisanal’, ‘boutique’–these are the catchwords of what has become, in Elizabeth Currid-Halkett’s view, a new self-regarding social class, grounded less in money than in elite education, and inured to the problems of those less fortunate. This is a timely, original, and disquieting analysis of contemporary American society.”

— Richard A. Easterlin, University Professor and Professor of Economics, The University of Southern California

“There is a lot to learn here about the contemporary face of income inequality.”

— Publishers Weekly

“Elizabeth Currid-Halkett, author of The Sum of Small Things, says a new cultural elite is on the rise: the aspirational class. These are people who aren’t necessarily rich but who share a set of views on the most socially conscious ways to spend money…. That’s why, for this milieu, “a $2 heirloom tomato purchased from a farmers’ market is so symbolically weighty … and a white Range Rover is not.””

— TIME magazine

“The aspirational class gets a kick in the quinoa courtesy of Elizabeth Currid-Halkett’s The Sum of Small Things

— Vanity Fair

“A key companion to Robert Putnam’s survey of dwindling US social mobility, Our Kids.”

— Barbara Kiser, Nature

“Rather than filling their garages with flashy cars, today’s rich devote their budgets to less visible but more valuable ends: education, domestic services and cultural capital. A professor at the University of Southern California shows why it is so difficult to stop the privileged position of the elites becoming more entrenched.”

— Books of the Year: The Economist

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Elizabeth Currid-Halkett

Author, speaker and researcher Elizabeth Currid-Halkett is the James Irvine Chair in Urban and Regional Planning and professor of public policy at the Price School of Public Policy at the University of Southern California.

Her research focuses on the arts and culture, the American consumer economy and most recently the role of culture in geographic and class divides.

She is a member of the World Economic Forum’s Industry Strategy Officers and a former member of the WEF Global Future Councils.

Currid-Halkett received her PhD from Columbia University.

Learn more

Interview with Ezra Klein

NPR Interview with Hidden Brain

Books by Elizabeth Currid-Halkett

  • The Sum of Small Things: A Theory of the Aspirational Class
  • Starstruck: The Business of Celebrity
  • Cover - The Warhol Economy: How Fashion, Art, and Music Drive New York City