Is an Hermes Bag a Better Investment Than an Ivy League Education? Maybe.


Rob Nelissen and Marijn Meijers, social psychologists at Tilburg University in the Netherlands, recently conducted a series of experiments that sought to measure the effect of displays of luxury goods on how people are treated.

According toTime, "Nelissen and Meijers showed volunteers one of two videos of the same man being interviewed for a job. In one video his shirt featured a logo and in the other it didn't. Volunteers rated him more suitable for the position, and suggested he earn 9% more, when a conspicuous logo was present."

A 9% salary difference -- because his shirt had a nice logo on it. In the midst of college admissions season, there's a useful comparison here: According to research from PayScale Inc., the median starting salary for a graduate of the University of Massachusetts Amherst is $47,000. The median starting salary for a graduate of Brown University -- an Ivy League school -- is $49,400. That's a difference of about 5.1%.

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In other words, wearing a Lacoste shirt to a job interview instead of a no-name shirt would appear to generate a higher starting salary than going to Brown instead of UMass. Another selling point? A Lacoste button-down costs $88 at Macy's, compared with annual tuition and fees of more than $40,000 per year at Brown -- versus about $12,000 at UMass.

One final note: While the Tilburg University study was carefully controlled -- it was the same guy in both videos, with the only difference being the brand of shirt -- comparisons of starting salaries between graduates of different colleges are, as I've written about before, rife with selection bias. So that 5.1% starting salary differential likely exaggerates the benefits of attending an elite college.

So if your kid suggests that you buy him a bunch of luxury clothing instead of sending him to an elite college, don't dismiss him as shallow and shortsighted. He just might be brilliant.

Zac Bissonnette'sDebt-Free U: How I Paid For An Outstanding College Education Without Loans, Scholarships, Or Mooching Off My Parentswas called the "best and most troubling book ever about the college admissions process" by The Washington Post.