More Money = More Time Alone


Does access to money predict social behavior? That's the question posed by researchers Emily Bianchi and Kathleen Vohs in a new study. They dug into data for nearly 30,000 respondents of the General Social Survey - that's a long-running sociological survey of American attitude and behavior - to find out how what we earn affects how we spend our time. Emily Bianchi is an assistant professor at the Goizueta Business School at Emory University in Atlanta. Thank you for joining us.

EMILY BIANCHI: Thank you for having me.

WERTHEIMER: So what is the answer? How does income affect how people spend their time?

BIANCHI: Well, what we found is that people who live in wealthier households tend to spend more time alone. And they tend to spend less time socializing with other people.

WERTHEIMER: Any other people or particular other people?

BIANCHI: Well, what we found was that people who are in households with higher income tend to spend less time with family, less time with neighbors. But they do spend more time with friends.

WERTHEIMER: Now, what we're talking about here when we say high-earning people. Give us a dollar.

BIANCHI: You know, generally, we're looking at - the median income was about $58,000. And we're looking at this in a continuous sense. And we find it - it's pretty linear. So if you're in - your household earned $70,000, you're going to see that people socialize less, on average, than households that are in $50,000.

WERTHEIMER: Well, now, one tempting explanation might be that if you have a lot of money, you can go anywhere you want. If you don't have a lot of money, you're in - you're stuck with the people or you're happy to be stuck, perhaps, with the people that are right around you.

BIANCHI: Yeah. And that was certainly something we wondered about. There is evidence that when people have greater levels of education, they're more likely to leave their communities of origin. They're more likely to move away from their childhood homes.

And so what we did is we looked at how these effects played out among people who didn't leave their childhood homes or their childhood communities - and also looked at people who did. And what we found is that it actually didn't matter. So even if you lived in the same town in which you grew up, income still predicted the amount of time you would spend socializing with your family.

WERTHEIMER: So why is this important? What do you think this tells us about social class and social connections and the importance of income for class and connection?

BIANCHI: Well, I'm not entirely sure yet. I mean, there's a lot of potential implications here. On the one hand, you know, it's somewhat troubling because we know that social connections tend to promote mental and physical health. So to the extent that wealthier people are spending less time attending to those relationships, this could have negative implications for physical and mental well-being.

On the other hand, you know, we still don't know a lot about why wealthier people are spending less time with others. And it could be that money enables wealthy people to limit contact with relatives with whom they have strained or difficult relationships. So it may be somewhat of a luxury to be able to pick which relationships you choose to attend to and focus on the ones that are most supportive and satisfying.

WERTHEIMER: Emily Bianchi is an assistant professor of management at Emory University in Atlanta. Thank you very much for talking to us.

BIANCHI: Thank you for having me.

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