People with higher incomes are ‘prouder, more confident and less afraid’, study says

People with higher incomes are ‘prouder, more confident and less afraid’, according to ‘the most comprehensive analysis to date’.

Researchers in the US and Singapore analysed income data and questionnaire results of 1.6 million people in 162 countries, including the US, the UK, Ireland, Australia, Germany, France and Japan.

Higher income predicted whether people felt more positive ‘self-regard emotions’ like confidence, pride and determination. 

Lower income had the opposite effect, and predicted negative emotions relating to how they viewed themselves, such as shame. 

However, a big wage packet could turn you into a bit of a beast – those with high wages were ‘not necessarily more compassionate or loving’, the experts found. 

People with higher incomes tend to feel prouder, more confident and less afraid than people with lower incomes, but not necessarily more compassionate or loving, according to the new research


A 2014 study by economists Eugenio Proto and Aldo Rustichini found that people tend to be happier in countries with higher average incomes.

That means that life satisfaction correlates with GDP per capita, adjusted for purchasing power parity.

What may come as more of a surprise is their finding that average life satisfaction actually peaks with countries that have an average annual income of about $33,000, and after that, life satisfaction tends to drop as wealth rises.

A tiny bump in GDP per capita leads to a large increase in life satisfaction in poorer countries, while the same size increase would lead to a much smaller rise in happiness for richer countries.

The findings were similar in both high-income countries, such as the UK and the US and developing countries like Angola, Cambodia and Burkina Faso.

‘The effects of income on our emotional well-being should not be underestimated,’ said study author Eddie M.W. Tong, an associate professor of psychology at the National University of Singapore.

‘Having more money can inspire confidence and determination while earning less is associated with gloom and anxiety.’ 

In their ‘most comprehensive analyses to date’, the team conducted an independent analysis and a meta-analysis of five previous studies that included a survey of the more than 1.6 million people worldwide.   

As well as providing income data, the participants rated to what extent they had felt multiple emotions in recent days and weeks, including both positive and negative ‘self-regard emotions’. 

Researchers defined self-regard as ‘the extent to which people feel and think well or poorly of themselves’. 

Hence, favourable views of one’s self – including confidence, pride and determination– are positive self-regard emotions.  

In contrast, negative self-regard emotions are associated with unfavourable self-views. 

Study data came from people in developed countries and developed countries. Pictured, slum in the city of Luanda, Angola, Africa

Study data came from people in developed countries and developed countries. Pictured, slum in the city of Luanda, Angola, Africa

‘These emotions arise from circumstances that put the self in a negative light, making one feel bad about oneself, such as failing to achieve or retain an important goal, being unable to avoid or reduce a threat, and causing a moral blunder,’ the researchers say. 

‘They include sadness, fear, and shame, which are respectively linked to personal losses, overpowering threats, and moral frailty, prompting one to be doubtful or critical of the self. 

‘Individuals feeling these emotions may question their ability to achieve, master a situation, or do the right thing, and associate the self with significant shortcomings.’

The researchers found income reliably predicted greater positive self-regard emotions and lower negative self-regard emotions. 

‘Income predicted self-regard emotions as strongly as it has been known to predict life evaluation,’ they say in their paper, which has been published today in the journal Emotion

‘Hence, having more money makes people feel more proud, contented, and confident and less sad, afraid, and ashamed.’ 

The analyses also included a category of emotions people feel about others, such as love, anger or compassion. 

Unlike self-regard emotions, the studies didn’t find a consistent link between income level and how people feel about others.

‘Having more money doesn’t necessarily make a person more compassionate and grateful, and greater wealth may not contribute to building a more caring and tolerant society, Professor Tong said.

The findings from the study are correlational, so they don’t prove if higher income causes these emotions or if there is just a link between them.

However, the team did find that levels of income may also have long-term effects. 

From one particular analysis of a longitudinal survey including more than 4,000 participants in the US, researchers found that higher income predicted higher levels of self-regard emotions about 10 years after the initial survey.

Meanwhile, low income predicted greater levels of negative self-regard emotions, such as fear and shame.

It’s therefore possible that residents in economically depressed countries particularly suffer from mental health problems, manifested in the surveys as low self-worth. 

‘Policies aimed at raising the income of the average person and boosting the economy may contribute to emotional well-being for individuals,’ Professor Tong said.   

The link between money and happiness is often investigated, but according to the team, there is no consistent evidence on whether access to funds makes people feel better.

Despite this, there is ‘robust evidence’ that higher income makes people evaluate their lives more favourably – a subtle distinction.

Another research paper published in January found feelings of wellbeing continue to rise with increasing income, refuting the idea that there’s some sort of a cut-off point.

Previous research suggested the point at which money no longer led to more happiness was around $75,000 (£55,400) a year.

But the study, published in PNAS, found a continuing rise in wellbeing and life satisfaction hundreds of thousands of dollars past this point. 

Researchers from Purdue University previously found that an annual income of between £43,000 ($60,000) and £54,000 ($75,000) is the ideal amount for emotional well-being.  


Being generous really does make people happier, according to research in 2017 from an international team of experts.

Neurons in an area of the brain associated with generosity activate neurons in the ventral striatum, which are associated with happiness, the study found.

A group of 50 volunteers in Switzerland took part in a spending experiment, with each given 25 Swiss Francs (£20/$25) per week for four weeks. 

As part of the experiment, participants performed an independent decision-making task, in which they could behave more or less generously while brain activity was measured using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI).

They were asked to choose to give between three and 25 francs of their money as a present to a recipient different from those previously chosen.

The researchers found that participants who had committed to spending their endowment on others behaved more generously in the decision-making task.

They also discovered greater self-reported increases in happiness as compared to the control group. 

The full results were published in the journal Nature Communications.