Work-life balance: Career-focused people who prioritise making money are more likely to be lonely

Career-focused people who prioritise making money are more likely to be lonely because they sacrifice time with their loved ones in order to work, study finds

  • Some people base their entire sense of their self around their financial status
  • Psychologists call this phenomenon the ‘Financial Contingency of Self-Worth’ 
  • Experts from the US found that the pursuit of wealth detracts from socialising
  • In turn, this leads to isolation and increasing depression and feelings of anxiety 

Those who focus their lives on accumulating wealth are more likely to end up lonely — as they sacrifice social time with loved ones in order to work — a study has found.

Experts from the US explored why basing one’s self-esteem around financial success — the so-called ‘Financial Contingency of Self-Worth’ — can have drawbacks.

According to the team, pursuit of money in itself is not inherently problematic, but the impact such has on much-needed social connections can be. 

The findings, they added, emphasise the importance of maintaining social networks and personal relationships — alongside other goals — for one’s mental health. 

Isolation is known to cause depression and anxiety — conditions which have been on the rise during the coronavirus pandemic and its resultant lockdowns. 

‘When people base their self-worth on financial success, they experience feelings of pressure and a lack of autonomy,’ said paper author and psychologist Lora Park of the University of Buffalo.

These feelings, she explained, ‘are associated with negative social outcomes.’

‘Feeling that pressure to achieve financial goals means we’re putting ourselves to work at the cost of spending time with loved ones,’ added fellow paper author and University of Buffalo psychologist Deborah Ward.

‘It’s that lack of time spent with people close to us that’s associated with feeling lonely and disconnected.’

In their investigation, the team recruited more than 2,500 people to take part in studies exploring the relationship between the financial contingency of self-worth and a number of other factors.

These included the amount of time that participants spent socialising with others, as well as any feelings of loneliness or social disconnection.

Participants were asked to keep a daily diary for two weeks, in which they wrote down how much time they spend engaged in social activities as well as how they felt about the importance of money.

‘We saw consistent associations between valuing money in terms of who you are and experiencing negative social outcomes in previous work, so this led us to ask the question of why these associations are present,’ said Professor Ward.

‘We see these findings as further evidence that people who base their self-worth on money are likely to feel pressured to achieve financial success, which is tied to the quality of their relationships with others.’

Social connections are important. We need them in order to feel secure, to feel mentally healthy and happy. But much of what’s required to achieve success in the financial domain comes at the expense of spending time with family and friends.’

‘I hope this is part of what becomes a longer line of research looking at the mechanisms between valuing money and social-related variables,’ commented Professor Ward. 

‘We don’t have the final answer, but there is a lot of evidence that pressures are largely playing a role.’

The full findings of the study were published in the journal Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin.


Being generous really does make people happier, according to research 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. 

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The full results were published in the journal Nature Communications.



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