Examining the role of television programmes in legitimising inherited wealth and privilege for the super-rich in a society that values meritocracy

Philippa Carr, Simon Goodman, Adam Jowett, Jackie Abell

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Recent years have seen the proliferation of television broadcasts that focus on the lavish lifestyles and consumption of “rich kids.” However, flaunting inherited wealth is an accountable activity within UK society that claims to be based on meritocratic values. Whilst wealthy individuals are a source of public spectatorship, they are also attributed with contributing to economic inequality and inhibiting social mobility. This study draws on social psychology to examine media representations of wealthy heirs accounting for their wealth in popular programmes about the “super rich.” Forty-one and a half hours of non-subscription UK television data from 2016 that included the term “super-rich” was analysed. Drawing on Discursive Social Psychology, heirs were found to be managing an ideological dilemma of accounting for their inherited privilege while in a (supposedly) meritocratic environment. Heirs use four interpretative repertoires to negotiate their unmeritocratic position: (1) having a fair go, (2) unintentional privilege, (3) constructing wealth as “family money” and (4) sharing wealth with loved ones. These interpretative repertoires downplay privilege by redefining ownership, highlight any work they do, construct them as aspirational and present them as lacking agency. The presentation of heirs in entertainment documentaries maintains the illusion of meritocratic conditions.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)(In-Press)
Number of pages18
JournalSocial Semiotics
Early online date28 Jul 2023
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 28 Jul 2023

Bibliographical note

© 2023 The Author(s). Published by Informa UK Limited, trading as Taylor & Francis GroupThis is an Open Access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives License(http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/4.0/), which permits non-commercial re-use, distribution, and reproduction in anymedium, provided the original work is properly cited, and is not altered, transformed, or built upon in any way. The terms on whichthis article has been published allow the posting of the Accepted Manuscript in a repository by the author(s) or with their consent.


  • Inequality
  • meritocracy
  • Television
  • super-rich
  • inheritance
  • Discursive Psychology

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Psychology(all)
  • Social Sciences(all)


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