The Language We Speak Predicts a Range of Economic and Health Behaviors

According to research by Professor Keith Chen, a behavioral economist at the Yale School of Management, speakers of languages that make a strong grammatical distinction between the present and the future (such as English, Greek, Italian, and Russian) have trouble making good future-oriented choices.

“Speakers of languages that do not distinguish between the present and the future [such as Chinese, Finnish, German, and Japanese] save more money, retire with more wealth, smoke less, practice safer sex, and are less obese, according to Chen’s findings.”

“There’s a connection between how you feel about the future and how your language forces you to talk about the future,” says Chen. “If you speak a language that doesn’t distinguish strongly between the present and the future, you save a lot more because the future feels closer. If you speak a language that separates present and future events, the future feels more distant, which makes it harder to do things to care for your future self like save money, exercise, and eat better.”