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The Poverty Formula: How Money Affects Our Appearance, Health and Way of Thinking


Source: Wonderzine

“Money is not happiness” - we hear such phrases since childhood, which theoretically should convince us that many life values ​​are not associated with wealth. But according to research, money affects us more than we would like to think. How poverty can affect our lives from childhood, says Wonderzine.

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In theory, free education is a social lift that gives everyone the opportunity to influence their future. Many of us are told that studying is an important investment in ourselves. But in reality, this social lift does not work for everyone.

British charity organization "Children's Society of the Church of England" conducted a study: two thousand children and their parents from different cities of Great Britain told how the level of income affects their studies. Among children from low-income families, more than half admitted that when they need something to study, they do not even ask their parents for this thing - they know that the purchase will turn into financial difficulties for the family. Instead, they come to class without teaching materials.

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Many British schools charge meals, and one in five children from low-income families said they had to skip lunch because they didn't have enough money. Some schools provide free meals to students from low-income families, but this hardly makes the situation easier. To get a free lunch “for the poor,” you need to come to the cafeteria with a special card, and 19% of children admitted that this turned out to be emotional discomfort for them. Some said they were bullied for not being able to afford “regular” meals or study materials.

Unbalanced nutrition, strained relationships in the team, missing classes - all this is reflected in grades and cognitive abilities. Bullying can lead to depression, anxiety disorders, and in the most extreme cases, suicide in the long term.


Often people draw superficial (and often false) conclusions about people and their wealth by looking at clothing and accessories. But some studies show that even if you deprive a person of all the external attributes of wealth, his well-being will be reflected in his appearance - literally on his face.

In 2017, a group of researchers conducted an experiment with 81 students. Each of them was shown 80 portrait photographs of men and 80 photographs of women, all in black and white, without piercings, tattoos or any garments. The subjects had to guess whose income was more than $ 150 thousand per year, and whose income was less than $ 35 thousand. On average, people gave correct answers 68% of the time - this is much more than one could guess by chance.

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The researchers asked the students exactly how they guessed which of the people in the photo was rich and who was not so rich. The subjects found it difficult to answer. But when they began to demonstrate specific facial features, it turned out that the most revealing parts were the eyes and mouth. It was from them that many subjects guessed the well-being of people in the images.

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According to scientists, everything is explained by the fact that people with wealth experience less stress and more positive emotions. Depending on what mood prevails in our life, our mimic wrinkles and facial features are formed in a certain way. If a person is constantly under stress for years due to lack of finance, this may well be reflected on his face. In the next part of the experiment, the researchers asked the students which of the people in the photo they would offer a job. Most chose people with high incomes - this proves once again: people who have been experiencing financial difficulties for a long time are less likely to get rich.

Mental condition

People with lower wealth are more at risk of mental illness. True, the big question is what is the cause and what is the effect. It may be more difficult for someone with depression, anxiety, or other mental disabilities to find a stable job.

More than a hundred studies have been devoted to this issue, which were carried out in dozens of different countries. 80% of studies have shown that people with low incomes are more likely to have mental disorders, they are more pronounced, and they last longer.

Of course, blaming poverty alone for psychological difficulties is unfair. "She may be one factor that plays a role in combination with genetics and life events," says psychologist Crick Land of the University of Cape Town, who studies mental health policy. But the most compelling research so far shows that it’s poverty that leads to mental illness, and not vice versa, he said. First of all, it can threaten depression.

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As the scientist explains, there is one difficulty with research in this area: experimenters cannot artificially make the subjects poor for a long time. So it remains to rely on data obtained in a non-experimental way: if unemployment rises in a certain locality or the average income level falls, the likelihood of depression also increases.

This works the other way around: a recent study by Swedish scientists showed that people who won the lottery or received large unexpected payouts started using fewer anti-anxiety medications and taking sleeping pills less often.


Obviously, the lower the level of income, the less quality food and treatment a person can afford, and this affects health, just as the level of stress affects mental state. But research shows that people in difficult financial situations get sick more often due to genetic changes.

The socio-economic status of a person can affect the work of his genes. Many of them are associated with immune responses, the development of the nervous system, skeleton. This process is called epigenesis - certain sets of genes are “turned on” or “turned off” depending on the situations that a person experiences at an early age. That is, if children with a similar set of genes are born in a family with high and low incomes, this does not mean that by the beginning of their adult life it will still be the same: the growing environment can affect 10% of the genome.

Genes that turn on during stress can make a person prone to heart disease, diabetes, cancer, schizophrenia and other illnesses.

Way of thinking

American politician Orrin Hatch spoke out against welfare programs in 2017. He said that it was difficult for him to spend "billions of dollars to help people who will not lift a finger themselves, but will only wait for help from the state." He may have overlooked the fact that people who are accustomed to low incomes are not always able to make the right financial mindsets: our level of well-being affects how we prioritize, and in general, cognitive ability.

In 2013, a group of scientists from Harvard, Princeton and other leading universities found that for people with a low income, solving a financial problem turns into a higher level of cognitive stress - about the same leads a night spent without sleep.

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The researchers came up with a series of experiments in which subjects initially had a different set of resources. Scientists decided to find out how, depending on the amount of resources, people's behavior and how they make decisions will change. During one of the stages, the subjects were asked to play the "Wheel of Fortune". At the same time, the "rich" had more attempts to guess the number that will appear on the roulette wheel, while the "poor" - fewer. It turned out that the "poor" players spend more energy on each move and their cognitive fatigue is noticeably higher.

In another game - in the style of Angry Birds - the "poor" players also spent more effort to get more accurate aim. As a result, this led them to more successful results, and they gained more points.

“In some cases, poverty helps to achieve better results,” the researchers explain. "But this is about short-term goals - people are better at focusing on the task ahead of them right now." But in the long run, lack of resources leads to more stress, cognitive fatigue, and focusing on the problems that need to be solved “right now” makes it difficult to think about the more distant future.

Often it is this prioritization that leads people to borrow or borrow money - this helps to solve the problem that is facing them right now, but it reflects badly on the future and leads to an even more difficult financial situation. This was evident during the experiment: when the "poor" players were allowed to borrow moves, they used this opportunity, not always thinking whether they could repay the debt. At the same time, having received borrowed moves, they began to show not such good results as before. According to scientists, this shows how a person with limited resources can make unproductive and short-sighted decisions.

“If your income is low and you are actively thinking about how to solve a financial problem, it does not allow you to fully focus on other tasks,” says professor of psychology Jiying Zhao at the University of British Columbia.

He also did research and tried to figure out how poverty affects thinking. He gave out to some subjects twenty dollars, to others one hundred dollars. With this amount, he asked them to order food in a restaurant. In addition to the names of the dishes, their calorie content was indicated on the menu, and at the bottom it was noted that students were given a discount (the subjects were just students).

To test what the subjects were focusing on, Zhao used technology that tracks pupil movements. It turned out that the “poor” students looked very little even at the names of the dishes - they focused only on prices, and many of them did not even notice the discount. Having received the menu, they began to calculate the budget with concentration. The "rich" students calmly studied everything that was written on the menu, took advantage of the discount and chose nutritious meals.

Human qualities

There is good news too. Psychologist Paul Piff of the University of California at Berkeley is convinced that people with low incomes are more likely to share and empathize with others. In his series of experiments, he asked subjects to play Monopoly. Initially, some players received more toy money, others less. At the same time, the subjects were promised: after the experiment is over, they will be able to exchange toy money for real money.

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When they were asked to share toy money with a stranger who didn't have it, it turned out that the "poor" players were willing to give 44% more money than the "rich."

Piff also noticed another pattern: the "rich" players who were given more privileges in the game were much more aggressive than the "poor" and spoke louder. After the game, the subjects discussed their experiences. Basically, those who initially had privileges managed to save more money by the end of the game. But it turned out that few of these people admit that they were lucky. Basically, they said that they managed to win thanks to skill and strategic thinking. As the scientist explains, this corresponds to real life.

People with wealth tend to rationalize their luck - explaining it by the fact that they tried hard. Also, people often blame those who earn less for not being able to achieve the same success. Few people think about the fact that poverty brings with it many other problems: psychological difficulties, social isolation, poor health. Few people can handle it all on their own, and you can hardly blame anyone.

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