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March 19, 2022

Does the language you speak affect how much you save?

Could the language you speak affect your financial decision-making? Does the fact that you're reading this in English make you less likely to save for retirement?

Quite likely, maintains Yale University behavioural economist Keith Chen, who believes the grammar of the language you speak affects your finances.

Chen divides the world's languages into two groups, depending on how they treat the concept of time. If your language separates the future and the present in its grammar, you're more likely disassociate that future from the present.

Speakers of such languages -- such as English -- save less, retire with less wealth, smoke more, practice more unsafe sex and are more obese. This effect persists even after controlling for a speaker’s education, income, family structure and religion, he maintains.

"There’s a connection between how you feel about the future and how your language forces you to talk about the future,” says Chen. “If you speak a language that doesn’t distinguish strongly between the present and the future, you save a lot more because the future feels closer."

"If you speak a language that separates present and future events, the future feels more distant, which makes it harder to do things to care for your future self like save money, exercise, and eat better."

Not surprisingly, Chen's findings have been criticised by both economists and linguists who argue there are a number of cultural, social, or economic reasons why different language speakers behave differently.

Studies like this one are prone to mistakes, because they survey too many languages without knowing enough about how these languages truly work, they argue.

What do you think? Does language have such an impact on your thinking? 

By Gordon Powers, MSN Money



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Gordon PowersGordon Powers

A long-time fund company executive, Gordon Powers now heads up the Affinity Group, a financial services consulting firm. Gordon was a personal finance columnist for the Globe & Mail for many years, has taught retirement planning...

Jason BucklandJason Buckland

The modern-day MC Hammer of money, Jason can often be seen spending cash that isn’t his with the efficiency of a Wilt Chamberlain first date. After cutting his teeth as a reporter for the Toronto Sun, he joined the MSN Money team with...