Bad with money? Chances are you're unhealthy, too

20 August 2014, 15:44   By Julia Kukiewicz

THE same factors that make people better at saving money for their retirement also make them physically healthier, a new study has found.

savings piggy bank lost
Credit: Gearstd/

"Employees who saved for the future by contributing to a 401(k) [a matched pension fund] showed improvements in their abnormal blood test results and health behaviours approximately 27% more often than non contributors did," the authors write in Healthy, Wealthy and Wise: Retirement Planning Predicts Employee Health Improvements, which is due to be published in Psychological Science.

Caring for your health and making pension contributions are linked in a basic and obvious way: taking care of them, perhaps even with some level of sacrifice, in the present is a way to care for the future.

On an everyday level, it means that nagging those committed to their sofas to start putting away money for retirement might be a waste of time.

And that your annoyingly healthy, marathon running friend is also highly likely to already be saving for their old age.

More on retirement saving

Real world results

This study is particularly interesting because the researchers looked at real world behaviour, from a plant that offered its employees both a wellness program with annual biometric screenings and the opportunity to contribute to a pension.

Data collected over three years allowed the researchers to see not only how healthy contributors and non contributors were but how much members of the two groups took action to improve their health after getting abnormal results like high cholesterol and blood test results.

They were even able to monitor changes in unhealthy behaviours, like smoking and exercise frequency, through the results of health questionnaires the employees filled out as part of their wellness program.

At the first stage, there was almost no difference between the contributors and the non contributors, some of each group had abnormal results or unhealthy behaviour.

97%, for example, had at least one abnormal blood test result.

The difference came when they had to take action based on the advice of the doctors.

Employees who made regular contributions to their pension pot were more likely to take steps to improve their health based on what the doctors told and saw a 27% improvement in their blood scores as a result.

Those not contributing to a pension continued to suffer health declines over the same period.

More than education needed

"We cannot directly identify the specific mechanism driving this relationship," the researchers conclude.

They controlled for some factors that we generally think of as psychological skills, like conscientiousness and cognitive ability, but say the difference could be down to self efficacy.

They also can't tell whether the difference is a result of people thinking through their decisions or more abstract problems like being prone to procrastination.

What they can tell is that, based on these results, giving people information and education about saving won't help everyone.

The authors suggest that stronger solutions, making people save, are the only effective way to get everyone to participate in having enough money put away for later in life.

Early to bed, early to rise?

This study lends some credence to the famous proverb 'early to bed and early to rise makes a man healthy, wealthy and wise'.

But don't take it too literally: while this study shows that health and wealth outcomes are indeed linked previous research casts doubt on the theory that getting an early night will make you richer.

Researchers from the University of Madrid published the results of tests on around 1,000 teenagers, some early risers and some night owls.

Those that were more active in the evenings showed more of the kind of intelligence that has been linked to higher level jobs and therefore higher incomes.

Larks, on the other hand, tended to get better school grades, probably, the researchers guessed, because they were more on the ball for school in the morning, but had fewer of the creative skills associated with higher earners.

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