Americans tend to spend more, save less, and be overweight. A generalization? Sure. But luckily (or not?), poor, fat Americans aren't alone; the Greeks, for one, have similar traits.
On the other hand, folks like the Germans are thriftier and in better shape - and they save more for retirement. Meanwhile, the Chinese blow most nationalities away when it comes to saving money.
What explains these differences? It's long been thought a mix of history, culture, and psychology are at the root. Or... could it be language's fault?
That's the thesis of The Effect of Language on Economic Behavior: Evidence from Savings Rates, Health Behaviors, and Retirement Assets [PDF link]. The recently published paper argues that some groups don't mind having an empty retirement account or smoking a pack a day because their language makes the future seem far enough off to ignore.
Here is what the Big Think blog thinks about the paper:
Being clear about the timing of your topic turns out to be one of the areas where grammars differ. Some tongues, including English, are strong future-time-reference, or FTR, languages: If Chen, a professor at Yale's School of Management, wants to say he can't meet you tomorrow because he has a seminar, he has to say "I am going to listen to a seminar." On the other hand, others are weak FTR languages. In Mandarin, Chen would say Wˇo qù t ̄ıng jiˇangzuo ("I go listen seminar," where "go" just means that he's heading over, nothing to do with when).And the study results results are nothing short of astounding. According to Big Think:
In Europe, speakers of weak-FTR languages (German, Finnish and Estonian are examples) were 30 percent more likely to have saved money in a given year than were equivalent speakers of a strong-FTR language (English, Spanish or Greek, for instance). (To put that in perspective, according to Chen's analysis, speaking a strong-FTR language is as a big a risk-factor for not-saving as unemployment.) Weak-FTR language-speakers have piled up an average of 170,000 more euros per person for their retirement than strong-FTR speakers, and are 24 percent less likely to have smoked heavily, 29 percent more likely to exercise regularly, and 13 percent less likely to be obese. The weak-FTR speakers even had stronger grips and great lung capacity than did those whose grammar forced them to mark the difference between today and tomorrow. National records reflect individual habits too, Chen writes: "Countries with weak-FTR languages save on average six percent more of their GDP per year than their strong-FTR counterparts."Sure, linguists like Noam Chomsky and Steven Pinker dismiss the idea that how we speak determines how we think but the next time you stare at your non-existent savings account balance, remember what language you speak!
Got a few more minutes to spare? Good - I think you'll enjoy these past articles:
- Never mind the whales, save languages!
- Eye charts from around the globe
- Catch two pigeons with one bean
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Categories: off topic