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