Higher income predicts feelings such as pride and confidence

March 7, 2021

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Higher income predicts feelings such as pride and confidence

People with higher incomes tend to feel prouder, more confident and less afraid than people with lower incomes, but not necessarily more compassionate or loving, according to a new study.

In a study of data from 162 countries, researchers found consistent evidence that higher income predicts whether people feel more positive "self-regard emotions," including confidence, pride and determination. Lower income had the opposite effect, and predicted negative self-regard emotions, such as sadness, fear and shame. The research was published in the journal Emotion.

The findings were similar in both high-income countries and developing countries, said the lead researcher.

What the researchers say: “The effects of income on our emotional well-being should not be underestimated," he said. "Having more money can inspire confidence and determination while earning less is associated with gloom and anxiety.”

In what they called the most comprehensive analyses to date, the researchers conducted an independent analysis and a meta-analysis of five previous studies that included a survey of more than 1.6 million people in 162 countries. The analyses also included a category of emotions people feel about others, such as love, anger or compassion. Unlike self-regard emotions, the studies didn't find a consistent link between income level and how people feel about others.

“Having more money doesn't necessarily make a person more compassionate and grateful, and greater wealth may not contribute to building a more caring and tolerant society,” said the researchers.

Levels of income also may have long-term effects. In an analysis of a longitudinal survey including more than 4,000 participants in the United States, the researchers found that higher income predicted higher levels of self-regard emotions about 10 years after the initial survey of participants, while low income predicted greater levels of negative self-regard emotions, such as fear and shame.

“Policies aimed at raising the income of the average person and boosting the economy may contribute to emotional well-being for individuals,” the lead author said. "However, it may not necessarily contribute to emotional experiences that are important for communal harmony.”

So, what? It’s not really surprising that higher income should result in higher self-esteem and confidence—even when misplaced. There has been a lot of research into what are called “bubbles”—higher income bubbles, executive bubbles and so forth.

The essential thing about these bubbles is that it is very difficult for people in them to cognitively get outside of them. Politicians and CEOs, for example, tend to surround themselves with people who reflect back to them their own opinions, thereby reinforcing them. The same thing is true of an income bubble.

A recent study, which was in an earlier TR, found that higher income people tended to believe that those with lesser incomes were more able to withstand hardships and thus didn’t need so much help. Sometime ago, another study found that higher income people believed that lower income people didn’t feel the same emotions that they did.

This study reinforces much of this earlier work.

Dr Bob Murray

Bob Murray, MBA, PhD (Clinical Psychology), is an internationally recognised expert in strategy, leadership, influencing, human motivation and behavioural change.

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