April 13, 2007 / 7:05 PM / 13 years ago

Quenching thirst for status with bottled water

NEW YORK (Reuters Life!) - Sports cars and designer handbags may flash status, but for less money drinking bottled water seems to have just as much snob appeal.

Bottled mineral water from Borjomi are seen at the production line at the Georgian Glass and Mineral Water Company factory in Borjomi, some 150 km (93 miles) to southwest of Tbilisi, in this December 15, 2006 file photo. Sports cars and designer handbags may flash status, but for less money drinking bottled water seems to have just as much snob appeal. REUTERS/David Mdzinarishvili

Americans buy more bottled water as their salary increases — especially those who earn more than $50,000 a year, according to a new study.

“People were treating bottled water as if it had snob appeal. With higher income, people are acting as if it’s like getting a fancier car. It’s a way to show you’re more sophisticated,” said David Gay, a professor at the University of Arkansas and a co-author of the study.

He and his team questioned 758 people in Arkansas. Twenty percent of people with an annual income of $50,000 annually bought water daily compared with 14 percent who earned less.

The findings are published in the Forum of the Association for Arid Lands Studies, a Texas Tech University journal put out by the International Center for Arid and Semiarid Land Studies department.

As incomes rise, people are also more likely to buy water filtration systems. People questioned in the study said they bought bottled water because they perceived it to be purer, safer and healthier than tap water.

Women and people under 40 years old also buy more bottled water. About 60 percent of women prefer bottled water compared to men at 40 percent.

Gay said young people seem to react as if tap water is not as good as bottled water.

The study said that in 2005 worldwide bottled water sales exceeded $10 billion. Americans consume bottled water more than any other beverage, other than carbonated soft drinks.

There are more than 2,800 bottled water brands worldwide, according to the study.

“I’m amazed at the phenomenon of bottled water,” Gay said.

“There’s no reason to think those kinds of trends are going to change.”

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