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Your Primary Language Impacts Your Ability to Save for the Future

In a paper by M. Keith Chen of Yale University School of Management and Cowles Foundation, a conclusion was drawn that the language you speak has an impact on your ability to save for the future.

Languages differ widely in the ways they partition time. In this paper I test the hypothesis that languages which grammatically distinguish between present and future events (what linguists call strong FTR (future time reference) languages) lead their speakers to take fewer future-oriented actions.

First, I show how this prediction arises naturally when well-documented effects of language on cognition are merged with models of decision making over time. Then, I show that consistent with this hypothesis, speakers of strong-FTR languages save less, hold less retirement wealth, smoke more, are more likely to be obese, and suffer worse longrun health. This is true in every major region of the world and holds even when comparing only demographically similar individuals born and living in the same country.

Examples of languages that have weak FTR language include: Amharic, Bambara, Beja, Cebuano, Danish, Dutch, Dyula, Finish, Flemish, German, Hakka, Hawaiian, Icelandic, Indonesian, Japanese, Javanese, Kikuyu, Luxembourgish, Malay, Maltese, Mandarian, Maori, Norweigen, Oromo, Soddo, Sidamo, Sumatranese, Sundanese, Swedish, Swiss German, Vietnamese, and Yoruba.

Languages with little to no grammatical distinction between the present and future (weak-FTR language speakers) engage in much more future-oriented behavior. Weak-FTR speakers are 30% more likely to have saved in any given year, and have accumulated an additional 170 thousand Euros by retirement.

Also by retirement, weak-FTR speakers are in better health by numerous measures: they are 24% less likely to have smoked heavily, are 29% more likely to be physically active, and are 13% less likely to be medically obese.

Now there is a factor I’ve never considered in financial affairs, your native tongue. If you’d like to read the entire paper, click here.

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Steve

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Steve Rhode

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