“The structure of languages affects our judgments and decisions about the future, and this might have dramatic long-term consequences.”
On October 1st I read an interesting article in Scientific American, entitled, “How Your Language Affects Your Wealth and Health.” Dr. Keith Chen, of Yale Business School, had conducted a study analyzing individual-level data — economic decisions, retirement assets, smoking and exercising habits, and general health in older age — from 76 developed and developing countries. He also analyzed national savings rates, country GDP and GDP growth rates. Premised on the fact that some languages have explicit future markers while others have more ambiguous markers between present and future, Dr. Chen correlated the economic and health data with language structure, with striking results. “Speaking a language that has obligatory future markers, such as English, makes people 30 percent less likely to save money for the future,” according to Scientific American.
I shared the article on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn, and today I came across a terrific little video that summarizes the study’s findings. Good visuals nearly always help me make sense of information; it’s why I made this video, summarizing a different cross-cultural study, earlier this year. I bet you’ll find the movie below helpful as well:
The original study is entitled, “The Effect of Language on Economic Behavior: Evidence from Savings Rates, Health Behaviors, and Retirement Assets,” written by M. Keith Chen, Yale University, School of Management and Cowles Foundation, April, 2013
Published in the American Economic Review 2013, 103(2): 690-731
Editors choice, Science Magazine, Vol 339(4)
Permanent address: http://dx.doi.org/10.1257/aer.103.2.690http://www.anderson.ucla.edu/faculty/keith.chen/papers/LanguageWorkingPaper.pdf
Remember, Cultural Detective is a leading-edge process not only for understanding values and behavioral differences across cultures, but for navigating them successfully.