Keeping Up with the Joneses—Peer Pressure in Disguise

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Candace Osmond

Candace Osmond studied Advanced Writing & Editing Essentials at MHC. She’s been an International and USA TODAY Bestselling Author for over a decade. And she’s worked as an Editor for several mid-sized publications. Candace has a keen eye for content editing and a high degree of expertise in Fiction.

Keeping up with the Joneses means constantly working to match your neighbors when it comes to spending and social status. This common idiom symbolizes the invisible, often unspoken competition to appear just as successful or affluent as those around us.

Idioms such as keeping up with the Joneses are expressions that convey figurative meanings beyond their literal interpretation, adding color and depth to language. They’re vital in English, offering concise ways to express ideas and enriching communication with cultural context and vivid imagery.

But an idiom must be delivered correctly and in the right context if you want it to make sense. So, I’ll go over all the details about this phrase’s full meaning, variations, origin, and even a few synonyms. I’ll also provide tips for effectively using it in different contexts, along with sentence examples. Let’s get to it!

Keeping Up with the Joneses—Peer Pressure in Disguise

What Does the Idiom Keeping Up with the Joneses Mean?

The idiom keeping up with the Joneses means trying to match or outdo your neighbors or peers in terms of wealth, status, or material possessions.

Merriam-Webster defines the idiom as “to show that one is as good as other people by getting what they have and doing what they do.” This definition digs a little deeper and sheds light on why someone might feel compelled to have everything their neighbor has and more. By nature, we always want more and have an insistent need to prove our worth to others.

The idiomatic expression describes the act of trying to emulate or not be outdone by one’s neighbors or peers, especially in terms of possessions and lifestyle. It’s a commentary on the societal pressure to conform to a certain standard of living, often leading to unnecessary spending and stress.

When I first left the East Coast and headed out west to Alberta, Canada, I felt the true impact of this expression first-hand. Newfoundlanders don’t really have a desire to show up their neighbors or have the biggest and best toys sitting in their driveway. We hardly even care if our lawns are mowed because the goats usually take care of it! (kidding…sort of)

But moving to Alberta was a huge culture shock for me. Everyone I came to befriend while living there had a deep desire to keep up with the Joneses constantly. Coworkers would sport the newest cell phones as soon as they came out, and when one neighbor got a new boat, the rest of the street eventually followed suit. I loved my years spent in Alberta, but I learned it’s definitely the land of material things.

Literal Meaning vs. Figurative Meaning

The literal meaning of keeping up with the Joneses might make you think of neighbors—one with the surname Jones—competing in lawn care or car purchases. But, figuratively, it represents the broader concept of comparing oneself to others in all aspects of life, from career success to personal achievements.

Variations of the Idiom

  • Following the Joneses
  • Keeping up with *insert any surname here* (to be used when you want to speak of someone specifically)

How Is Keeping Up with the Joneses Commonly Used in Context?

Keeping up with the Joneses is a widely recognized idiom that reflects a common societal phenomenon. In this section, we explore various contexts in which this idiom is commonly used. We’ll delve into different ways of using it effectively, provide useful tips, and offer examples to illustrate its application in everyday situations.

What Are the Different Ways to Use Keeping Up with the Joneses?

  • In consumer culture: Discussing excessive spending to match societal trends. “I hate that a new smartphone comes out almost yearly now, and everyone feels the need to have it just so they can keep up with the Joneses.”
  • Socially: Referring to the pressure to conform to peer groups. “I don’t want to drink this weekend, but I know my friends want me to. I guess I should just keep up with the Joneses so that I don’t lose friends.”
  • In professional environments: Comparing career achievements with colleagues. “Gary keeps up with the Joneses. He’ll do whatever it takes to get the promotion.”

What Are Some Tips for Using Keeping Up with the Joneses Effectively?

  • Recognize the context. It’s definitely best used in discussions about societal pressure.
  • Use it to spark conversation about financial responsibility and personal values.
  • Be aware of the tone. The idiom can be used humorously or critically. Read the room.
  • Always be sure to capitalize Joneses as it’s a proper name.

Where Can You Find Examples of Keeping Up with the Joneses?

You must have heard this phrase used in television and movies over the years, but it’s also been applied to books, news, and other forms of media. It’s a fairly common idiom.

There’s a 2016 action comedy movie titled Keeping Up with the Joneses starring the hilarious Zach Galifianakis. There’s also a television series (drama) with the same title about a family doing whatever it takes to protect their family, last name Jones, after the death of their father.

And I can’t talk about this idiom without mentioning the variation the Kardashians used to title their reality show Keeping Up with the Kardashians.

Not to mention the endless uses of the idiom by news outlets over the years, like these examples:

It hurled those optimists into the pessimistic ’70s, when they felt the unrequited “Jonesing” quality of comparing themselves to others, or “keeping up with the Joneses.” (The Upstate Business Journal)

So many people in the world live with far less than what we had, and that knowledge helped us avoid the trap of keeping up with the Joneses.” (The Business Insider)

What Is the Origin of the Idiom Keeping Up with the Joneses?

keeping up with the Joneses Ngram
Keeping up with the Joneses usage trend.

The idiom keeping up with the Joneses originated from a comic strip first published in 1913, entitled Keep Up with the Joneses, written and drawn by Pop Momand. It satirized the American trait of competition in achieving material success.

How Did the Idiom Evolve Over Time?

It didn’t take long for the phrase to evolve from a humorous depiction in a comic strip to a critical social commentary on consumerism and societal pressure.

What Are Some Related Terms to Keeping Up with the Joneses?

Utilize synonyms to give diversity to your words, whether spoken or written.

Keeping Up with the Joneses—Peer Pressure in Disguise 1


  • Rivaling one’s peers
  • Social competition
  • Emulating the elite
  • Keeping up with the times
  • Competing
  • Follow the trends
  • Chasing rainbows
  • Living beyond your means


Keeping Up with the Joneses: Test Your Knowledge!

Choose the correct answer.

What Have We Learned about Keeping Up with the Joneses?

We’ve learned that keeping up with the Joneses refers to the act of striving to maintain or surpass the material possessions, social status, or lifestyle of one’s neighbors or peers. The idiom serves as a critical reflection of consumer culture and the human tendency to compare ourselves with others.

Now that I’ve unpacked the idiom keeping up with the Joneses with details of its meaning, origins, variations, and usage, you’re all set to start using it with confidence.

If you enjoyed learning about this idiom from my guide, check out my other articles on English language idioms right here on our website!