Body Language – Rich vs Poor

The Rich vs. Poor Series is a collection of articles that discuss differences in habit and behavior between the rich and poor. The Series is written with the intent to 1. Reduce class warfare and hate by promoting understanding and empathy through articles that explain the different perspectives towards topics and issues the rich and poor have, and 2. Educate the poor on how they can improve their own situation.


Rich people are better able to express themselves with their body language than poor people.  This is because speaking good body language is a skill decays over time like any other language or skill.  If you don’t practice your second language, your instrument, your sport or craft, then after a few years you will lose most of your abilities.  Rich people, being wealthy enough in free time and expendable income, can afford to attend more social events than poor people, and so have more opportunities to maintain the skill of body language than poor people.  Going out with friends to a gathering, party, or event costs money and time.  Thus, as the years go by, a rich person’s body language gets more and more refined by practice while a poor person’s body language gets worse by a lack of practice. 

One could argue that some skills are timeless and once learned are never forgotten, like riding a bike or drinking water.  To that I say: rich children are more likely to learn body language growing up than poor children.  The first reason is opportunity; the rich have more social events and therefore more opportunities for practice, and practice is necessary for learning, so the rich kids improve while the poor kids don’t.  Rich parents know good body language, and so teach it to their children, while poor parents don’t have good body language, and so instead teach bad body language to their children.

Poor people body language is typically being still and uncommunicative.  This is because this body language is born out of fear: by not communicating anything, you minimize the risk of speaking bad body language and causing problems.  This is a self perpetuating cycle because by not making mistakes, they never learn how to correct the mistake.  By never seeing good body language, they never see how to correct the mistake.

Furthermore, differences in the environment they live in result in expressive and positive emotional body language being more acceptable and common for rich people, and unexpressive and negative emotional body language being more acceptable and common for poor people.

In poor neighborhoods, crime is higher.  Because body language can attract criminals and trouble, you protect yourself by restricting your body language; in rich neighborhoods, crime is lower, so it is safe for a rich person to use their entire body to talk to you: face, hands, arms, etc.  If you talk to homeless people, they typically have a dead-pan facial expression, and will react slowly and carefully, because they don’t know if you mean harm or good, and they don’t want to risk offending you and bringing harm to themselves.  This risk is particularly great because a homeless or poor person has little to back them up, hence being poor.  So their future is very dependent upon how this specific event will turn out: if it ends up badly, the poor person will have little to no help recovering, whereas a rich person has safety and security in friends, family, and wealth to recover.  Because so few people talk to homeless or poor people, every opportunity is much more valuable to a poor person. A rich person knows more will come, so the importance of each individual interaction is reduced (see Scarcity vs Abundance), meaning the rich person is more willing to take risks with expressing his or her opinions and standing up for them while a poor person will be quicker to take back what he or she said, and it is easier to claim miscommunication when your body language wasn’t clear in the first place.

In the workplace, poor people are more likely to be employees rather than managers, so they must be more cautious about what they say and do in case they get fired. You don’t have to worry about offending the boss and getting fired when you are the boss, and rich people are more likely to be the boss. Because poor people are more likely to be low level employees, the body language that they do learn is that of subordination and obedience, rather than the assertive and independent, free thinking body language associated with higher level employees. Poor people develop the body language of nodding downwards when greeting or acknowledging people or conversations (the modern relic of bowing), because that’s what is appropriate in the workplace in order to give the respect due to their managers.  Rich people are more likely to nod upwards, because they are in charge.  

Because poor parents spend most of their day without authority, they are more likely to assert it at home, over their children, further perpetuating the body language education of subordination.  Poor parents are tired from work, and will tell their children to be quiet, robbing them of opportunities to practice and learn how to express themselves.  Rich parents on the other hand, spend most of their day with authority, so they are more likely to give their children more freedom to be themselves rather than hide themselves.  In fact, rich parents place more emphasis on manners like speaking when spoken to, therefore providing their children with more opportunities to practice expressing and being themselves than poor parents.  Poor families have more problems at home, or problems with life in general, so the conversation topics and consequent body language is primarily about power, anger, and violence, which is what the will children learn.  Rich families have more time for joy, and so while they still may have problems at home, they also have many positive experiences and stories to outweigh the bad, and on the whole teach positive body language instead.  

Body language has a strong influence on your personal identity, which shapes your behavior for the future.  You can break out by faking it until you make it, see this TED talk by Amy Cuddy on Body Language

Read more about articles in the Rich vs. Poor Series here.

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  • Edward Ha

    Very enlightening and thorough!