You speak English, a futured language, and what that means is that every time you discuss the future or any kind of a future event, grammatically, you’re forced to cleave that from the present and treat it as if it’s something viscerally different. Now suppose that that visceral difference makes you suddenly disassociate the future from the present every time you speak. If that’s true, and it makes the future feel like something more distant and more different from the present, that’s going to make it harder to save.
If, on the other hand, you speak a futureless language, the present and the future, you speak about them identically. If that suddenly nudges you to feel about them identically, that’s going to make it easier to save.
Futureless language speakers, even after this level of control, are 30 percent more likely to report having saved in any given year. Does this have cumulative effects? Yes. By the time they retire, futureless language speakers, holding constant their income, are going to retire with 25 percent more in savings.
Can we push this data even further? Yes. Think about smoking, for example. Smoking is, in some deep sense, negative savings, right. If savings is current pain in exchange for future pleasure, smoking is just the opposite. It’s current pleasure in exchange for future pain. What we should expect then is the opposite effect. And that’s exactly what we find. Futureless-language speakers are 20 to 24 percent less likely to be smoking at any given in time compared to identical families. And they’re going to be 13 to 70 percent less likely to be obese by the time they retire.
In a fascinating episode of NPR’s TED Radio Hour titled The Money Paradox, behavioral economist Keith Chen shares some absolutely astounding research on how the tenses in a language influence that culture’s attitudes about saving and spending money.
Complement with this excellent, albeit flawed by virtue of being written in the futured English language, read on how to worry less about money.
The full TED Radio Hour is well worth a listen.