Sunday, May 27, 2007

Sunday dollars+sense: Could dieting hold the secret of financial success?

A few weeks back I mentioned that it doesn’t help much to be bright if you want to become rich. Smart people do earn more than other people, but they are not particularly good at saving what they earn.

In fact above a certain level of intelligence, the brighter you are the worse you will be with money.

Economist Jay Zagorsky from Ohio State University, who did the research, hasn’t stopped there.

He has gone back to the same survey that examined lives of 10,000 US post baby boomers and attempted to find out what really did make the rich ones rich.

Again, it wasn’t income (which is related to intelligence). What you save is much more important than what you earn.

Believe it or not, saving appears to be related to smoking and how much you weigh – seriously...

First smoking. Don’t do it if you want to end up with money. Zagorsky finds that on average non-smokers accumulate 50 per cent more wealth than light smokers and more than twice as much as heavy smokers.

You would be right in thinking that this is because non-smokers save the mammoth amount that the smokers spend on cigarettes. This is an important finding. Spending on cigarettes appears to be different to spending on other things. It comes at the expense of saving, rather than other spending.

Now weight. The greater your body mass index, the lower your wealth - especially if you are a woman. BMI scores of 18.5 to 25 are considered normal. BMIs above 30 indicate obesity. Amazingly Zagorsky finds that for each one unit that a young person's BMI increases their eventual wealth slides 8 per cent.

The really good news is that the effect appears to be reversible. People who lose weight gain wealth. But you can’t just lose a little bit. Zagorsky says the change needs to be big – from overweight or obese to normal.

There are all sorts of theories about why smoking and weight should be related to wealth. One is that people who smoke and are overweight don’t care as much about the future and so don’t see as much need to save.

But I think it is to do with control. If you are able to exert the massive amount of control needed to eat less, exercise more on these cold Canberra mornings or give up smoking, you are able to do almost anything. Even save.

J L Zagorsky, The wealth effects of smoking, Tobacco Control 2004; 13:370-374

Jay L. Zagorsky, Is Obesity as Dangerous to Your Wealth as to Your Health? Research on Aging, Vol. 26, No. 1, 130-152 (2004)