A new study finds there's a major difference between how rich and poor people spend their time

Photo: Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images.

Psychologists have suspected for a while now that money changes the way people act toward others.

Studies have found, for example, that wealthier people are less compassionate and more likely to check out during social interactions.

Recently, a pair of researchers at Emory University and the University of Minnesota set out to extend these findings by measuring the relationship between how much money you have and how social you are. They found that the wealthier you are, the less time you spend socialising.

For the study, cited on Vox, the researchers looked at two huge sets of data: nearly 30,000 respondents from the General Social Survey, which has been administered to American adults once or twice a year since 1972, and nearly 90,000 people who responded to the American Time Use Survey between 2002 and 2011.

Surveys asked people to indicate their household income as well as how often they spent time with relatives, neighbours, and friends.

The researchers controlled for factors like living arrangements and childcare so as to make sure, for example, that lower-income people didn’t spend more time with relatives and neighbours simply because they didn’t have the funds to afford their own house or a babysitter.

Results indicated that people with higher incomes spent fewer total evenings socialising and a smaller portion of their day with others.

Specifically, the General Social Survey showed that people with high incomes (defined as about $125,000) spent about 217 evenings socialising per year, compared to about 223 evenings for people with low incomes (defined as about $40,000).

Meanwhile, the American Time Use survey showed that people with high incomes (defined as about $105,000) spent about 10 minutes more alone per day than people with low incomes (defined as about $12,000).

Interestingly, when the researchers broke it down by social category, they found that even though higher-income people spent less time with relatives and neighbours, they spent more time with friends.

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It’s impossible to say for sure why richer people spend less time with family and neighbours, but the researchers behind the study have some ideas.

As study coauthor Emily Bianchi told Vox, some of us can now pay for things that we used to rely on family and neighbours for. Think a home alarm system instead of having a neighbour or relative look after your home while you’re away, for example.

Bianchi also told Vox that as Americans get wealthier, we could see more “individualization.” In other words, people may end up interacting less with others and become less involved in their communities.

There are two caveats to keep in mind here. First, the researchers acknowledge that they can’t necessarily prove that high incomes cause people to spend less time with others — only that the two are linked.

Second, it’s important to note that the surveys don’t measure loneliness — which can be very different from spending a lot of time alone. So these findings don’t necessarily imply that you’re doomed to misery once you make a lot of money.

At the same time, it’s worth keeping these findings in mind as your wealth increases. If spending time with family and neighbours is something you value highly, you can be proactive about making sure those connections don’t weaken over time.

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