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Poor physical, financial health driven by same factors, study finds

Poor physical, financial health driven by same factors, study finds

Poor physical health and financial health are driven by the same underlying psychological factors, finds a new study from Washington University in St. Lou­is.

Re­search­ers La­mar Pierce and doc­tor­al can­di­date Tim­o­thy Gubler of the uni­vers­ity's business school found that the de­ci­sion to con­trib­ute to a re­tire­ment plan pre­dicted wheth­er some­one will act to cor­rect poor phys­i­cal health indicators re­vealed dur­ing a health ex­amina­t­ion.

“We find that ex­ist­ing re­tire­ment con­tri­bu­tion pat­terns and fu­ture health im­prove­ments are highly cor­re­lat­ed,” the study said. “Those who save for the fu­ture by con­tri­but­ing to a 401(k) [plan] im­proved ab­nor­mal health test re­sults and poor health be­hav­iors ap­prox­i­mately 27 per­cent more than non-contributors.”

Gubler and Pierce out­line their find­ings in a pa­per that ap­peared June 30 in the jour­nal Psy­cho­log­i­cal Sci­ence. They of­fer ev­i­dence that in­suf­fi­cient re­tire­ment funds and chron­ic health prob­lems are at least par­tially driv­en by the same “time-discounting” pref­er­ences.

The pair stud­ied use per­son­nel and health da­ta from eight in­dus­t­ri­al laun­dry loca­t­ions in mul­ti­ple states. They found an em­ploy­ee's pre­vi­ous de­ci­sion to fore­go im­me­di­ate in­come and con­trib­ute to a 401(k) re­tire­ment plan pre­dicted wheth­er he or she would re­spond pos­i­tively to a rev­ela­t­ion of poor phys­i­cal health in an employer-sponsored health ex­am.

Em­ploy­ees were giv­en an in­i­tial health screen­ing. Nine­ty-sev­en per­cent of them had at least one ab­nor­mal blood test and 25 per­cent had at least one se­verely ab­nor­mal find­ing. They were told of the re­sults, which were sent to the work­er's per­son­al doc­tors. Work­ers al­so were giv­en in­forma­t­ion on risky health be­hav­iors and fu­ture health risks. The re­search­ers fol­lowed the laun­dry work­ers for two years to see how they at­tempted to im­prove their health, and if those changes were tied to fi­nan­cial plan­ning.

Af­ter con­trol­ling for dif­fer­ences in in­i­tial health, de­mograph­ics and job type, the re­search­ers found that re­tire­ment sav­ings and health im­provement be­hav­iors are highly cor­re­lat­ed. Those who had pre­vi­ously cho­sen to save for the fu­ture through 401(k) con­tri­bu­tions im­proved their health sig­nif­i­cantly more than non-contributors, de­spite hav­ing few health dif­fer­ences pri­or to the pro­gram's im­ple­menta­t­ion.

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