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New research has suggested that having a reliable income boosts feelings of self-confidence but does not affect feelings toward others. Mireya Acierto/Getty Images
  • A new study from the National University of Singapore (NUS) looked at the connection between income security and self-regard.
  • The study, says its authors, was the first to explore the emotional effects of having a secure income.
  • People with solid incomes were more likely to feel confident and proud of themselves.
  • The study also suggested that positive self-regard from income security may continue for at least a decade.
  • Making more money did not appear to increase a person’s feelings for others.

A new study from the NUS explored how having a secure income could make people feel. According to its authors, although previous research has suggested that financial security changed how people viewed their lives, the new study looked at the feelings it promotes.

Having a solid income increased positive self-regard emotions, including confidence and pride.

Conversely, the researchers found no association between income security and stronger feeling for others, such as love, gratitude, or compassion. It also had no bearing on feelings of anger.

According to lead study author Eddie Tong, an associate professor at the NUS Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences:

“We started this study because past research had not produced strong and replicable evidence that income is linked to emotions. We suspected that it was because past research did not examine the different types of emotions. This research indeed shows that how much you earn and what emotions you tend to feel are linked, but only for certain kinds of emotions.”

The study appears in the journal Emotion.

Assoc. Prof. Tong and colleagues derived their conclusions from an analysis of five separate studies that tracked the experiences of 1.6 million people living across 162 countries.

The team asserts that its study is the most comprehensive of its kind. The researchers looked at inward- and outward-facing emotions, as well as “global” feelings, such as happiness.

Positive self-regard emotions include pride, confidence, and determination. For negative self-regard emotions, the team tracked feelings such as anxiety and sadness.

“The more you earn,” says Assoc. Prof. Tong, “the more likely you could feel emotions such as pride and confidence and the less likely you would feel emotions such as worry and sadness.”

The study also looked for associations between income and emotions directed toward others. On the positive side, these feelings include gratitude, love, and compassion. On the negative side, they include anger.

Assoc. Prof. Tong reports that, when people were income-secure, the team “found no replicable evidence that income is associated with social emotions such as gratitude and compassion.”

The study, says its lead author, suggested that “[e]arning more does not make you more or less caring.”

The study authors also looked at the degree to which financial security today predicts future emotional well-being.

For this aspect of the research, Assoc. Prof. Tong and team analyzed data from a longitudinal study that included 4,000 people in the United States.

The researchers found that people with solid incomes tended to retain greater positive self-regard emotions a decade later.

People with reliable incomes were also less likely than others to experience negative self-regard feelings.

The conclusions the researchers drew may be of value in formulating public policy. According to Assoc. Prof. Tong:

“Findings from our analysis of self-regard emotions a decade later reveal that policies aimed at raising the income of the average person and boosting the economy can in the long term contribute to emotional experiences that can enable personal development, resilience, and achievement.”

Nonetheless, the study authors suggest that people may not get along any better than they already do even if they are more financially secure.

As Assoc. Prof. Tong cautions, “Policymakers should bear in mind that while greater financial prosperity is predictive of positive self-regard emotions, it may not necessarily contribute to emotional experiences related to communal harmony.”

Although the study encompassed a large population, Assoc. Prof. Tong suggests that more research is necessary to ensure the validity of the team’s conclusions.

He also suggests considering other factors in self-regard emotions. These might include differences based on individual personalities, cross-cultural influences, and differences in individuals’ circumstances.