- A study from UC Berkeley’s Dacher Keltner finds that isolation and a decrease in generosity occur as personal wealth increases
- Another study tracked a Mexican village and watched giving and community activities drop as wealth grew
- Since 1800, Americans have used the word ‘get’ in print progressively more than the word ‘give’
PUBLISHED: 13:30 EST, 4 September 2013 | UPDATED: 16:22 EST, 4 September 2013
A recent study shows that the more wealth a person gains, the more likely they are to become both stingier and lonelier.
Patricia Greenfield studied a Mexican village for forty years and watched its residents grow progressively distant from one another as they became richer. And she says the same thing has happened to the United States as a nation.
By surveying the contents of a million books printed between 1800 and 2000, Greenfield found that Americans have used progressively fewer words like ‘give’ and more like ‘get’ over the last 200 years, indicating a serious trend toward individualism she says is all because of money.
Care to give: Studies find that getting richer often means getting stingier and lonelier because people require communities less as they become wealthier
‘The frequency of the word “get” went up, and the frequency of the word “give” went down,’ Greenfield told NPR.
Greenfield, a researcher with UCLA’s department of Psychology, used Google’s Ngram viewer to assess changes in word use over the years.
‘Words that would show an individualistic orientation became more frequent,’ Greenfield said. ‘Examples of those words were “individual,” “self,” “unique.” Words that would represent a more communal or more family orientation went down in frequency. Some examples of those words are “give,” “obliged,” “belong.”’
Greenfield’s findings also use her forty years of tracking families in Chiapas, Mexico, where she found that as villagers grew richer, tendencies toward individualism grew stronger and community bonds became weaker.
Make more, give less: A study in 2001 found that the less money a household makes, the higher percentage of their income they contribute to charity
And Greenfield is not alone in her assessment that poorer people are more communal.
‘I saw it personally — I feel it in myself,’ said UC Berkeley researcher Dacher Keltner. ‘That somehow, when I am thinking hard about making more money and rising in wealth and enjoying materialistic benefits, I do feel personally that I am not as responsive to the needs of others.’
Keltner grew up poor and says he frequently attended barbecues and other community events. As he’s become wealthier and more independent, those backyard cook-outs have become much less frequent.
To give or receive? Greenfiled assessed a million American books and found that the use of ‘give’ has declined markedly since 1800
Still going: After the 1970s, the word ‘get’ sees a spike in use in American books, while give continues to drop
The professor of psychology studied money’s effect on individualism and generosity. He found that increased wealth leads to less generosity, charitableness, trust, and helpfulness.
‘In just about every way you can study it,’ he said. ‘Our lower-class individuals volunteer more, they give more of their resources — they’re more generous.’
Both researchers have concluded that the poor simply need social connections more, that they’re more reliable on the community safety net.
‘The wife may make the clothes for the whole family,’ Greenfield found while studying the Mexican village. ‘The husband grows food and builds the shelter for the whole family. Therefore giving, social obligation, belonging to a family are very important.’
America’s wealth has come at a price, said Keltner.
‘As we rise in wealth, along with that rise in wealth comes ideas of individuality and self-expression and autonomy and freedom,’ he said. ‘And loneliness.’
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