What Is The Matthew Effect? Why The Rich Get Richer While The Poor Get Poorer

Photo: getty
The Matthew Effect Makes The Rich Richer And The Poor Poorer

The old cliché, "The rich get richer while the poor get poorer," thrives for those who have, and threatens or at least diminishes hope for those who have not.

Robert K. Merton, a sociologist in the late 1960s, called this The Matthew Effect. He translated (literally) a verse from Biblical Parables that states, "...to those who have much, more will be given, and to those who have little, everything will be taken away."

RELATED: The Only 9 Jobs Where Women Make More Than Men

The Matthew Effect makes it harder for the working class to get ahead.

Indeed, individuals who find themselves in the working class of citizens, i.e., those who perform jobs for others, can attest to the idea of how difficult it is to get ahead these days.

While you may receive a cost of living allowance each year, you also receive notice of higher deductibles for insurance and other expenditures.

Merton used this verse to highlight a trend he was noticing within the scientific community. It seemed recognition was given to known researchers. In contrast, others who were performing similar work received little to no credit for their efforts.

It's akin to the idea, "Who you know in life matters more than what you might accomplish."

The Matthew Effect, according to this definition, seems prevalent in society today. Not only is there relevance in science, but it's also alive and well in income inequality, social class, education, housing, healthcare, Hollywood, and more.

For each step ahead, the news most often tells us how many are falling two steps behind.

The "one percent" versus everyone else.

In Jan 2019, Time Magazine signaled that the wealthiest one percent (about 40 people) took in 82 percent of the wealth created in 2017.

Couple this with the World Inequality Report of 2018 that shows how the wealthiest one percent is twice as wealthy as the poorest 50 percent, and you can begin to see inequality across the board.

Some attribute the gap between inequality and equality as a post-war phenomenon.

History demonstrates how during and immediately following World War II, equal opportunity for the good of all was customary.

During these tough times, people banned together as a community to help each other. The attitude throughout periods of crisis often reflects service together, not service for self.

But as years pass, things change. And generations of people — those who fought the war or who were alive during the time of conflict — pass away.

Younger generations may have little knowledge of the sacrifices made by others, sacrifices that brought about the prosperity, freedom of choice, and opportunity they currently enjoy.

Wealth is not always material in life.

As is often the case, it's the experience and lessons of the battle that define happiness and the feeling of being rich for many of us.

It's only when each person learns the honesty of feeling blessed that you realize how "being rich” is about more than money, stardom, fame, and recognition.

And it is here you can comprehend how each one of us contributes in some small way to the equalities and inequalities of life today.

"The Parables of Talents," the same verse of Matthew 25:29 used by Merton for his reflection, can be about spiritual growth and personal development, rather than money, material wealth, or recognition.

When you view it in these terms, you'll see how appreciating what's available often brings more enjoyment to your life. In this manner, you learn to use your resources wisely as you gain self-confidence for your abilities, talents, and petition of service to others.

I cannot tell you it is easy, nor can I tell you it will always be fair.

Like you, I see the lack of respect many have for other human beings. I view the disparity in treatment for different classes of people. I read about how leaders want more, while demanding we have less.

RELATED: How Racism Keeps Black Americans In Debt

And I listen to stories of how the monetary elite are buying their children’s way into prestigious colleges and high-level jobs. And it is not fair.

It is only truth as we understand it right now.

Condoleezza Rice, former Secretary of State, said it best in one of her interviews from 2010:

"The sooner you learn that life is not fair, the better off you'll be. Because you'll spend less time railing against life's unfairness and feeling aggrieved and entitled, and spend more time figuring out how to maximize your assets and your talents, and how to deal with things that you are not very good at."

Her words draw clear the idea for the "Parables of Talents."

The more you use and appreciate the blessings you have, the better equipped you feel to accomplish changes for the world around you.

When this occurs, it's possible to become happy without the need to acquire more material "stuff" you believe can bring happiness for being rich.

One of the previous times the disparity of the Matthew Effect was seen on such an enormous scale was during the late 1800s and early 1900s. Men like Rockefeller, Carnegie, and Morgan ran high-powered companies, while the government favored big corporations over working-class people.

Since 1980, with the passing of older generations, the changes in societal beliefs and behaviors, the introduction of new government policies, technological explosions for globalization and free markets, as well as the loss of opportunity in industrial complexes, the gap has widened.

These last 30 years or so have been the years of prosperity following the throws of war and destruction since World War II.

Yes, there have been conflicts and other wars since the 1940s; however, those wars often brought further division among classes, rather than unity for all.

We create our own idea of "richness" and happiness.

We created the world we live in, passing far beyond the recognition of what it is that defines real richness and happiness. We have often related your soul's passion and talents to nothing but the bottom-line.

It will take each of us to help recreate the world we want to see. One person alone cannot change it. No one government can pass enough laws that will carry the weight of those less fortunate.

Few living today, especially those who may be younger, have the experience of what some consider conflict, scarcity, or sacrifice. And many before us have been unable to resolve poverty, prejudice, and pride without war.

If you wish to change the attitude surrounding, "The rich get richer while the poor get poorer," you're called to look for happiness at the wealthiest level within yourself.

Change is upon us. If you desire something different without the ugliness of war, you must be willing to adjust your sails.

To change the landscape, each of us has to vow to live life more simply.

The resources you enjoy today are not always a given for tomorrow. Thus, we all share in the approach to live within our means, taking the basics of life we need, not everything we desire.

We must learn to prioritize our purchases wisely if we're to take power out of the hands of the already rich and famous.

More important, you have to see how each one of us is one small ripple in a big pond. It's your actions, thoughts, and hopes — combined with the spirit of what you value most — that will propel continued efforts to impact the field in front of you.

One small ripple can affect the outcome of the whole ocean. You are that ripple, and every day you have the chance to change the world by looking within to see how you contribute to allowing the pendulum of time to change.

The highs and lows our world experiences are cyclical. We happen to be at the forefront of seeing many things unravel on every level.

How did life change back in the early 1900s when The Matthew Effect was prominent?

Someone like Teddy Roosevelt became president. He listened to a unified people when they demanded better working conditions, justice, and fairness.

The people desired levity from the chains that bound them. Thus, Roosevelt sued monopoly corporations, then created regulatory reforms, making life better for many.

The Parables of Talents has a more meaningful message that invokes the "feeling of being rich" and the understanding of how positive attitudes and hard work restore hope for tomorrow.

Staying hungry for the betterment of all means you no longer remain average. You become happier in your definition of being rich.

RELATED: How People Who Are Always Thinking About Money Can Stop Obsessing Over Their Bank Account

Susan Dykes is a spiritual coach who embraces all the love a heart can endure. Contact her via email to learn more tips and tools for finding the love of your life, the very heart of your soul.