Poor physical, financial health driven by same factors, study finds
- July 05, 2014
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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.