One Personality Trait Is the Key to Both Wealth and Health

August 5th 2016

Tricia Tongco

When you think of a personality trait that could make you richer and healthier, you might not think of patience.

But it turns out that people who are more patient are wealthier and healthier than their peers, according to a new study that looked at the economic decision-making of older Americans.

Measuring Patience

Researchers posed a simple question: How much money would you have to receive a year from now in order to refuse $100 today?

The Wall Street Journal reported the results, which — not surprisingly — suggested that the older you get, the more impatient you are:

  • More than half of the 600 people surveyed, who were all over the age of 70, said they'd have to get $160.
  • Quite a few, who were all among the very old, said $200.

In the study, impatience is measured by the discount rate, which is the implied rate of interest that would cause participants to discount, or dismiss, today's payout for larger future financial earnings.

The average discount rate of those surveyed was 54 percent, which means that they'd defer receiving $100 today in exchange for $154 a year later. That discount rate is about twice as high as the rate among young and middle-aged people surveyed in past studies, according to the Journal.

Why Patience Matters

Impatience rises with age, according to the research. Not surprising, considering that someone nearing the end of life might not see the benefit of waiting as much as a younger person.

But patience is something after which to aspire, no matter what stage of life you're in, the study suggested. Consider its findings.


"Net wealth is significantly lower for the least patient, probably indicating that the least patient save less and therefore arrive at old age with fewer assets."

Delaying retirement and claiming Social Security means people can "enjoy greater Social Security benefits in old age," the study reported.

"The shift around the world away from publicly funded defined-benefit plans toward individual privately managed retirement accounts will be more problematic if older folk have a tendency to run down their savings too soon or invest too little in riskier equities, say, which might have a greater longer-run payoff," The Wall Street Journal reported.

No matter your age, you should be paying attention to the diminishing funding for Social Security benefits, especially considering that you likely won't be able to retire until you're 75 because of rising rent prices and overwhelming student debt.


"Serious health conditions, which imply reduced life expectancy, are associated with 11-30 percent higher [discount rates]," which are a sign of impatience.

Here's why that might be: Researchers found that impatient people are much less likely to engage in preventative healthy behaviors, such as getting a flu shot, not smoking, not drinking to excess, and having annual gender-related exams (e.g. pap smear, prostate exam, mammogram).

The less patient were also less likely to have made provisions for end-of-life challenges, such as having long-term care insurance, assigning a power of attorney, creating a living will, and having discussed end-of-life medical care plans with others, according to the study. This could arguably result in financial issues as well.

[h/t The Wall Street Journal]