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Growing Up Poor Leads to Greater Risk-Taking

New research suggests individuals who grew up poor are more likely to make risky financial decisions in hopes of an immediate bonanza.

Vladas Griskevicius, Ph.D., an assistant professor of marketing at the University of Minnesota, says the findings show that people respond to feeling threatened differently depending on whether people grew up in relatively resource-scarce or resource-plentiful environments.

The study is found in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.

Researchers built upon earlier investigations on how mortality cues influence reproductive timings. They found those who grew up resource-deprived or felt poor were more likely to take risks for immediate rewards when they felt threatened.

Subjects who were raised in a more predictable world in which they never had to worry about basic needs responded to the same stressors by becoming more cautious.

“You can have two people who appear identical, but if they see that the world is a dangerous place such as by seeing news coverage of a new terrorist attack, they’ll diverge in how they respond,” Griskevicius said.

“The difference between the two people is that they had a different socioeconomic experience growing up.”

According to Griskevicius, an example of the findings is a kid who grows up in a bad neighborhood. “If he hears gunshots down the street, this triggers a ‘live fast and die young’ psychology. He will feel the urge to get what he can while he can because the future is uncertain.”

Some researchers believe the desire for an immediate reward because of an uncertain future may explain why poorer individuals purchase more lottery tickets.

It also suggests that efforts using a “you never know what’s going to happen tomorrow” approach to persuade at-risk kids to stay in school or avoid risky behaviors might be ineffective.

“Why should I go to school if I might not be around to see the benefits of my education?” Griskevicius said. “Perhaps a more effective strategy would be to highlight the predictable aspects of the world. It’s a sense of the predictability of the world that’s going to get people to save money, stay in school, be less risky and care about the future.”

Source: University of Minnesota

Growing Up Poor Leads to Greater Risk-Taking

Rick Nauert PhD

Rick Nauert, PhDDr. Rick Nauert has over 25 years experience in clinical, administrative and academic healthcare. He is currently an associate professor for Rocky Mountain University of Health Professionals doctoral program in health promotion and wellness. Dr. Nauert began his career as a clinical physical therapist and served as a regional manager for a publicly traded multidisciplinary rehabilitation agency for 12 years. He has masters degrees in health-fitness management and healthcare administration and a doctoral degree from The University of Texas at Austin focused on health care informatics, health administration, health education and health policy. His research efforts included the area of telehealth with a specialty in disease management.

APA Reference
Nauert PhD, R. (2018). Growing Up Poor Leads to Greater Risk-Taking. Psych Central. Retrieved on September 26, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 8 Aug 2018 (Originally: 7 Jul 2011)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 8 Aug 2018
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