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American Economic Review: Vol. 103 No. 2 (April 2013)

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

Article Citation

Chen, M Keith. 2013. "The Effect of Language on Economic Behavior: Evidence from Savings Rates, Health Behaviors, and Retirement Assets." American Economic Review, 103(2): 690-731.

DOI: 10.1257/aer.103.2.690

Abstract

Languages differ widely in the ways they encode time. I test 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, I find 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. I discuss implications for theories of intertemporal choice. (JEL D14, D83, E21, I12, J26, Z13)

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Authors

Chen, M. Keith (Yale U)

JEL Classifications

D14: Personal Finance
D83: Search; Learning; Information and Knowledge; Communication; Belief
E21: Macroeconomics: Consumption; Saving; Wealth
I12: Health Production
J26: Retirement; Retirement Policies
Z13: Economic Sociology; Economic Anthropology; Social and Economic Stratification


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