Does the language you speak affect how much you save?

An economics professor at Yale has found the way a speaker uses the future tense can affect their likelihood of saving.

There are a lot of things that can affect your financial behavior, like how much you make or how much debt you have. And then there are more subtle things, like language.

Economist Keith Chen at Yale University has been researching the link between savings behavior and the use of the future tense.

"Languages differ very, very widely in whether or not the future and the present are put on even grammatical footing," says Chen.

For example, in English, the present tense and the future tense are clearly delineated. A speaker talking about the weather would say, "today it is cold, tomorrow it will be cold." Whereas in German, the tenses are closer together. A speaker says "morgen ist es kalt," literally "tomorrow it cold."

"We have to kind of singal and think everytime we speak about the future being something viscerally different than the present," says Chen.

According to Chen, this detail makes a difference when it comes to financial decision making. The closer the present and the future tense, the easier and more natural it is for speakers of that language to save for the future.

"On the flip side of that, as your language pushes the future further and futher away from the present, it makes it harder for you to save," says Chen.

About the author

Jeremy Hobson is host of Marketplace Morning Report, where he looks at business news from a global perspective to prepare listeners for the day ahead.

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