The Effect of Language on Economic Behavior: Evidence from Savings Rates, Health Behaviors, and Retirement Assets

THE AMERICAN ECONOMIC REVIEW 103.2 (2013): 690-731

Abstract: Languages differ widely in the ways they encode time. This article tests the hypothesis that the languages that grammatically associate the future and the present, foster future-oriented behavior. This prediction arises naturally when well-documented effects of language structure are merged with models of intertemporal choice. Empirically, the author finds that speakers of such languages: save more, retire with more wealth, smoke less, practice safer sex, and are less obese. This holds both across countries and within countries when comparing demographically similar native households. The evidence does not support the most obvious forms of common causation. The implications for theories of intertemporal choice are discussed.