Social Question

Nullo's avatar

Why are wealthier areas cleaner? Is that even the right question?

Asked by Nullo (21826 points ) October 6th, 2012

My store draws from the wealthy, middle, and poor parts of town. Our sister store is in a middle-to-wealthy-but-mostly-middle area, as are my preferred grocery stores.
On my way to break I realized that there was an awful lot of stuff scattered around where it shouldn’t be – canned spaghetti on top of a pallet of small appliances, one of my loathsome chickens in the pharmacy, a bottle of perfume in the cold case, and the odd napkin or sample cup tucked between products or behind shelving or just anywhere.
I thought about it, and realized that I never see that sort of thing at the other stores that I’ve mentioned, and concluded that it’s probably the difference in clientele, and got to wondering:
Why?
Why is it hard for some people to replace things that they don’t want, and so easy for others? What’s so difficult about tucking that napkin into your pocket until you find one of the four dozen trash cans that we have scattered around? Who refrigerates perfume, anyway?

What makes a person disinclined to not make a mess out of everything? What kind of person is that discourteous, and why?

Does it come down to simply getting someone to clean up after the army of Pigpens?

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28 Answers

chyna's avatar

I don’t agree with you. I think the wealthy are used to someone else cleaning up after them and are not more “clean” than the not so wealthy. I work with a lot of doctors and they never clean up after themselves. They all make over 300,000 a year.

wundayatta's avatar

I go to a Walmart, and things are a mess. Merchandise is all over the place. Same with a Kmart.

Kohls can be messy, but is usually fairly well organized. Macy’s seems pretty well organized most of the time.

What’s the difference? I suspect it is the amount of staff they have running around cleaning up after the customers.

But if it weren’t that, then I would say it has to do with the sense of ownership a person has in a store. If they identify with the store and its clientele, they will be more likely to put things in an appropriate place if they don’t want them. But if they don’t identify with the store, then I think they are less likely to care about what happens to stuff they decide they don’t want.

I think people might identify with the store if they can imagine themselves working there or owning the store or being able to afford what they need. They might not identify if they are too poor, and can’t imagine ever being an equal in the store.

If they don’t identify, they won’t care what they do to the store or what happens to other people’s experiences if they trash the place.

woodcutter's avatar

Maybe it’s just piss poor oversight in the messier places.

Symbeline's avatar

I agree with @chyna. I think it has to do with what the store can afford in means of staff, rather than the clientele’s behavior. Wealthier area stores would probably be as messy if the staff didn’t clean shit up. (ya know, all em stuck up, snot nosed nobles who think they don’t need to pay respect to anything)
I don’t know if it’s common for places to hire less staff in places situated in poorer areas or what though. I lived in plenty of poor areas, (still do) and all grocery stores, to this day, all pretty much look the same, nice and neat. I would myself, add legitimacy to a claim like this on the type of store it is more than anything else, really. Pawn shops are often messy, or at least, pretty clustered, and I’ve scarcely seen any of those in rich areas. But it’s obviously the staff’s fault for piling shit sky high…the customers don’t do it.
I guess that’s how we roll up in the ghetto, homeslpice.

rooeytoo's avatar

From personal observation I would say that your statement is true. I also think that certain groups of people have no objection to littering or living in the litter. This is because it is what they are used to so it seems normal and the same is true of people who are used to tossing their napkin in the bin. Kids mimic their parents and pick up their habits good and bad. Of course add alcohol into the equation and everyone lands in the same boat. Broken alcohol bottles litter the running and biking tracks everywhere as well as the highways and byways.

Pied_Pfeffer's avatar

In addition to the possible reasons above, it may have to do with the amount of time the customer has or the size of a store.

This has only been witnessed once, but it made me think about it…a woman was at the grocery store with a couple of children in tow. I noticed her taking an item out of her cart and putting it on a shelf. Then she selected a similar item and put that in the basket. Maybe she didn’t have the time or energy to put the original item back in its place.

As for store size, or not being familiar with the layout, the thought of trekking back to the original location can be daunting for some. Ever try on an article of clothing in a large dept. store and spend what seems like hours trying to find the right rack to hang it back up on? It can be the same feeling in a large grocery store.

LuckyGuy's avatar

I know it is not popular here to blame the less fortunate for making their own mess but I agree with @rooeytoo. My data comes from personal observation at 2 grocery stores owned by the same company and located in two different parts of town. The one in the upper middle class area is spotless. Customers bring their carts back to the store or put them in the conveniently located parking areas located never more than 10 car lengths away. In the lower class store shopping carts are rarely returned. People empty their cart and leave it the parking space next to them blocking then next person.The staff is constantly out there rounding them up. In the store, customers open packages, and move things around. Kids open packages of cookies, eat, and leave the package someplace else. You never see that in the Upper Middle Class store. The other store is located about a mile from low rent “affordable” housing”. And don’t get me started on the carts you find strewn all over the road left there by people who walk to the store and then abandon them instead of returning them the next time they shop.
It is learned behavior. In the city there is free trash pickup 2x per week. The streets and lawns are a mess. Here, we get it once per week, and we have to pay for the service. My place is spotless. I pick up anything I see and throw it away even if it does not belong to me. Learned behavior.

glacial's avatar

@LuckyGuy But in my city, we have grocery store chains with stores in higher- and lower-income neighbourhoods, and I’ve never seen a correlation here between income and grocery store messiness. In some stores, you see a single person gathering carts and putting them where they belong. That is that person’s job, or a big part of it. That can be observed in certain shops in either neighbourhood – but I notice it most often in a shop I frequent in a lower-income neighbourhood. Why do they invest in this? Because there is simply no space for stray carts in that store. They are forced to pay someone to wrangle carts if they want to be able to carry stock around. But I used to work in a very upscale neighbourhood, and the grocery store there had lots of space – and you would see customers leave their carts all over the place. Again, it was someone’s job to round them up there, so people didn’t drive into them – but they didn’t have to be as quick about it.

marinelife's avatar

It’s because those people have the energy and freedom and money to keep things cleaner. The poor are too busy finding food and clothing to worry about keeping places clean.

They are also too depressed by their circumstances to have the will to clean up.

Pied_Pfeffer's avatar

@marinelife I’m not so sure about that. In our area, the poor are often on welfare because they don’t have a job. It’s not a guarantee that they are too depressed by their circumstances. It all comes down to consideration for others. It doesn’t seem to matter what a person’s economic status is.

hearkat's avatar

I find that there is a general decline in “common courtesy” regardless of income level. That can be witnessed everywhere, across all income levels – and sometimes the wealthier seem more self-absorbed.

Sears and Macy’s used to always be clean and neat, but now BOTH look like a bomb went off a few hours after opening. But I also think that some employers do hire more staff and train them to stay on top of things, while other companies cut staff to save money.

It also used to be that having one ‘breadwinner’ in the household was enough to support the family, and some women would work in the retail shop for a little extra spending money. But now even two-income households can find it hard to make ends meet, because the salaries being earned have not kept pace with the cost of living (“Livable Wages”)... so retail stores pay very little, and often there are younger people working there whose work-ethic seems worse than mine was at that age (working at KMart while in college). But I think the diminished worke ethic is also a by-product of the corporations not caring about their staff.

It is a learned behavior, but not just from our parents… within a neighborhood, or a workplace, or any community (even online communities like Fluther) there is a ‘culture’ that sets its standards and expectations based on example, especially from leadership. Which is why two very similar stores serving essentially the same population can have very different levels of cleanliness.

ucme's avatar

Yet they’re commonly known as the “filthy rich.”

marinelife's avatar

@Pied_Pfeffer Think about how you would feel if you were on welfare. First of all, welfare is barely enough money to survive. It is very depressing.

Linda_Owl's avatar

I think it is the store trying to keep ahead of the messiness. Neither the wealthiest Americans nor the average Americans are likely to make the effort to return things that they have decided to not purchase to the point where these products were picked up. They generally do not have the time. So, the stores who cater to the higher-end shoppers, do their best to keep the stores clean & free of clutter.

Pied_Pfeffer's avatar

@marinelife Being down about temporary circumstances is one thing. Being depressed is another. When a person goes on unemployment or even qualifies for welfare, sometimes it is a choice, not a matter of need. I’ve witnessed it happening in both the US and the UK.

This topic is about the difference between ethics and rationalization. When I pick up a jar of tomato sauce in one aisle and later find a shelf that is on sale that I would prefer to buy, I take the first jar back to the proper shelf. That is ethics. If I think, “Oh well, a clerk will take care of putting this back on the proper shelf” and place it where it doesn’t belong, then it becomes a rationalization.

Maybe it has to do with upbringing…“This is the way my parent always did it”. Maybe the person assumes that employees are constantly checking shelves for misplaced items as part of their job. Maybe the customer is just running short of time. These reasons have nothing to do with a person’s economic status: It has to do with their thought process.

For 30 years, my parents rented a beach house for the family. The majority of shoppers at the local grocery store were families on a fairly expensive vacation as well. Sometimes, I would go to the store early in the morning. The place would be pristine. When I went after lunch, the store would be a mess. The store was packed to the gills with summer help, and they still couldn’t keep up with what these vacationers left in their wake.

A person’s depression may be one excuse, but I just don’t see it as a logical explanation for all. The same goes for financial status.

Dutchess_III's avatar

Wealthy people hire people to clean their yards, houses and to make repair. The rest of us do it ourselves, inbetween working.

Having said that, there is NO excuse for broken windows, broken screens, trashed furniture in a yard, etc. of a poor person’s house.

LuckyGuy's avatar

@glacial I never leave my cart loose in the parking lot. Never. When I am finished loading my car, i walk it to the cart storage area or return it to the store. It takes me 30 seconds and I get a bit of exercise. The effort costs nothing. Now compare that with the behavior of folks at the other store. Many (most?) just leave their carts where they finish with them. It is absolute laziness. Anyone can walk the cart to the cart storage area. They just don’t.
Here’s another example: In the richer neighborhood store I have never seen kids throwing a football in the aisles. In the poorer neighborhood store – yep.

As for trash pickup. Instead of sitting on your front porch how about taking 3 minutes and picking up the trash in fron to of your house. You don’t need to buy any fancy garbage bags. Groery bags will work fine. You just have to do it. Again, many (most?) don’t..

glacial's avatar

@LuckyGuy I would agree that good manners dictate that no one should leave their shopping cart on the loose – and the majority of customers must be putting their carts away, or we would not be able to navigate either the parking lot or the store. I’m just saying that there’s no reason for me to believe that a greater proportion of customers is leaving them around in a low-income neighbourhood’s grocery than in a high-income neighbourhood.

I’ve never seen a sport (not even hockey!) being played in the aisles of any grocery store – so maybe we’ve identified a US-Canada difference there. :)

LuckyGuy's avatar

@glacial You live in Canada? Second to Japan, isn’t that the politeness capital of the world? Of course you don’t see kids running around in the store.
I have no empirical data on the shopping cart return rate, just anecdotal. However the rate is so much higher it is statistically significant. At the store I frequent virtually all if not all the people put their carts away, while the one near the city they don’t . Same store chain. just different neighborhood and different clientele. It has nothing to do with how fast the “Helping Hands” kids go out there to collect carts. It is only the customers’ willingness to walk 5 car lengths to return the carts. It really pisses me off because is it such an easy thing to do. They just don’t.
This might make a good graduate thesis.

woodcutter's avatar

All the stores that I have seen only have those cart corals close to the store not way out near the back of the lot. If I have to park a quarter mile away I’m probably not going to push the thing all the way back after I spent a shit ton of money there. The cart collectors now have these motorized tractors to gang tow them all back. They do a good job when they do it.

LuckyGuy's avatar

^^^ Does not return returnable bottles and cans and does minimal recycling. Votes Republican. 30+ pounds overweight. ;-)
(I forgot what symbol is sarcasm ~?)

rojo's avatar

Over the last few years we have been instrumental in bringing what was once a student neighborhood that had deteriorated into a poor to unemployed one back up. It is a slow, 4-plex by 4-plex process that is still ongoing. Based on our observations here, I would agree with @Nullo about this being a socio-economic problem. There are no individual trashcans at the units, there is a dumpster that handles every 3–5 buildings. When we started there was always trash that was not in the dumpster, just in the vicinity as if close was close enough. The dogs and other animals were constantly getting into it so there was also blowing trash surrounding the buildings. Now, you can tell the areas that are predominantly student because it is measurably cleaner. There is nowhere near the amount of junk piled up beside the buildings or in the breezeway and the trash is actually in the dumpster. Many times you will see someone pick up someone elses can or blowing paper and throw it away as they walk past the dumpster.
I can say I have never seen this happen in the areas not yet renovated. I see people blindly walking past stuff constantly and once observed someone kick open a bag left lying in their way sending trash everywhere. He then threw his bag of trash at the dumpster, missing the opening, and walked off. Why?
Being students, I assume most of them are middle class (The upper income ones would live in a condo or multi unit complex with all kinds of amenities). Is it this that makes them see things differently and, I think, take more pride in where they live?
Is it that? A matter of pride? Is it as @rooeytoo said, it’s the way you were raised or what you grew up in?

rooeytoo's avatar

Regarding the shopping carts, here in my present location they have coin holders on each cart, in order to disengage one from the line-up you must insert a gold coin (1 or 2 dollar) into the locking mechanism. Then when you are finished with your cart you return it to the lineup and the cart into which yours will fit has a thingy on it that will push your coin out simultaneously locking your cart to the lineup, quite ingenious actually. Most people return their carts to get their money back. But here again, there is a certain type of house that will always have a collection of carts lying in varying states of disrepair (some with the gold coin still in the lock, others have the lock destroyed and coin missing), around the property. The same place will generally have the overturned wheely bin on its side in front despite the fact that the rubbish collection was 3 days ago, rusting dying cars on the lawn and the grass looking as if it hasn’t been mowed in years. These are almost always rental units or government subsidized housing. The question is what is the mindset, is it because there is no vested interest as in “It’s not my place, wtf do I care” or “it’s a crappy place why should I take care of it?” I don’t know but the situation exists.

I realize the question was originally about the inside of stores, I’m sorry, I am going off track but it seems as if it is in the same vein.

Nullo's avatar

@rooeytoo Aldi does the coin thing here. The genius is that even if the customer doesn’t care about the quarter-dollar, somebody else does, so the cart will almost always be returned. The rusty junker on the lawn, usually up on cinder blocks, is a staple of the stereotypical redneck dwelling.
@LuckyGuy From my days on carts, most people (say, about 93% on a typical day) would use the corrals. The problem was worst near the handicapped parking (understandable) and at the back of the parking lot (less understandable, since we have corrals spaced throughout).
@woodcutter The cart tractor is a boon, when it isn’t breaking down or out of power.

woodcutter's avatar

Where we are the furthest corral for carts is maybe 50 yards from the doors and after that, nothing just all parking. Probably accounts for 70% of the lot. I think the establishments are more concerned with packing in more customers than having any place to put carts when they are done being used. So customers find a place to clump them in places when they are way out in the back 40. The real scandal is new coming patrons walk right past them because they want a fresh one that has been brought back inside. Maybe because they have bought into the hype that if you just touch a contaminated cart you will propagate some kind of plague if not for those handy wipes at the front door.

theres cooties in them thar carts

Nullo's avatar

@woodcutter I’ve noticed that behavior. The only time the customer will accept a cart that hasn’t been hauled indoors is when there are absolutely no other carts to be had. If it’s not freshness (an overwhelming preoccupation in many people, even when it doesn’t matter) I think that we’re up against the power of routine.
I wouldn’t necessarily ridicule the cart-wipes (though I do) – we would find used tissues and diapers in them now and then.

JLeslie's avatar

I worked in retail for over 20 years, and I believe the generalization the OP makes to be true, but certainly not always true. I know plenty of middle class people who leave messes in the dressing room and in the movie theatres. Although, people with a lot of money not so much. I guess it depends how you define rich. It also reminds me of the Q’s we have had regarding busing a table at McDonald’s and others. Things like “it is their job” and “it keeps people employed if we leave a mess” I hear more often from people who are poor than rich. I think it is handed down from parent to child these social norms and expectations. My husband grew up with a maid in his home, but would never leave his trash laying around for someone else to pick up while at a restaurant or in a store. I think when someone is accustomed to nice things kept orderly, they like to leave things fairly orderly in their wake. I also think the poor tend to feel less relationship with a shop owner, meaning they aren’t considering, what if I owned this place, or what if I worked here. And also to consider the next customer coming in. Plus, I was raised to treat other people’s things with even more care then my own, and I think a lot of people are not raised that way.

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