How Having Money Affects Us

Money, as a status symbol, places people in more or less privileged situations. These positions can influence attitudes such as empathy, solidarity, and respect for others.
How Having Money Affects Us
Elena Sanz

Written and verified by the psychologist Elena Sanz.

Last update: 03 February, 2023

Social inequality is growing and the percentage of the population at risk of poverty has increased in recent years. On the other hand, ten percent of the people in the world hold more than 70 percent of global wealth. Being on one side or the other of the coin can affect your health, quality of life, and opportunities. It can even change your personality. We’re going to explain how having money affects us.

There are usually clear differences between wealthy and poor people. Their attitudes, behaviors, visions of life, and, above all, of inequality, differ in important ways. In fact, it seems that the status provided by money modifies not only material opportunities but also psychological processes. This fact has been corroborated by various studies.

man looking at money
Having money fosters a lack of empathy and domination, as well as insensitivity toward inequalities.

The effects of having money

Some of the most relevant findings have emerged from a series of investigations conducted by the University of California (USA). In the Monopoly experiment, several pairs of volunteers were asked to play this famous game while their behaviors were observed by the researchers.

From the outset, unequal and unfair conditions were established between the two. At random, one of the players was assigned a series of advantages and privileges. For example, rolling the dice twice, starting with double the money, and receiving more money on each win.

One would expect that, in this situation, the privileged player would feel uncomfortable and seek, in some way, to assist their opponent and establish a certain balance. After all, they knew that their advantage was completely random. However, the opposite happened. In fact, within minutes of starting the game, the privileged players began to be domineering, disrespectful, and unsympathetic.

They also began to exhibit more signals of dominance and strength via their attitudes and body language. For instance, they flaunted their wealth, slammed their pieces hard against the board, and took a higher percentage of the food that had been left on the table for them both. In addition, they began to be disrespectful and arrogant toward their opponents.

However, what surprised the researchers the most was that, at the end of the game, on being asked about their victory, the winners took all the credit. They highlighted their insight, strategy, and good work, and ignored the clear advantage they’d had.

Having money numbs us to inequality

The results above make it clear that people with money often consider themselves to be more deserving of it than those without. By establishing themselves in this supposed meritocracy, they become more insensitive to social inequalities.

On the other hand, another study found that attributing poverty to situational factors (taking into account the disadvantageous situations of poorer people) makes us less tolerant of inequality and more inclined to seek a social balance.

More research sought to reinforce the privileged participants’ awareness of the disadvantages of their partners. It helped them to reinforce their situational attributions through various exercises. After this, their support for inequality in the short and long term was reduced.

Money influences nutrition and health

Another way in which having money affects us is related to our physical health. In fact, it’s been found that social status could be related to a higher calorie intake and, therefore, increased weight.

In the Monopoly experiment, after finishing the game, the participants were offered a buffet lunch. It was found that the losers consumed significantly more calories than the winners. This seemed to be mediated by their increased stress and a decreased feeling of pride and power due to their poor performance in the game.

Translating this to real life, if a higher calorific intake occurred on a daily basis, it’d explain why there are usually more overweight people in the lower social strata.

Money increases unethical behavior

In addition to all of the above, having money seems to have a negative influence on our attitudes and ethical behaviors. In fact, it significantly decreases them.

Indeed, research has found that wealthier people are more likely to lie in negotiations, cheat for profit, and make unethical decisions. They’re also more likely to break the law while driving.

Man passing money to another under the table
Having more money is related to corruption and unethical behavior.

The importance of being aware of the effects of money

Although the previous findings aren’t conclusive and it’s not possible to generalize, they should certainly encourage reflection. Indeed, they suggest that we’re often not aware of the situations of disadvantage or vulnerability in which many people find themselves.

We don’t need to be millionaires to be victims of the kind of bias in which we consider that we deserve everything we have and demonstrate insensitivity toward those with less. With proper reflection, it’s possible to correct this cognitive tendency and become more aware of injustice and inequality. For this reason, you should always try to be empathetic and never lose sight of the privileges that you have.

All cited sources were thoroughly reviewed by our team to ensure their quality, reliability, currency, and validity. The bibliography of this article was considered reliable and of academic or scientific accuracy.

  • Instituto Nacional de Estadística (INE) (2021) Encuesta de Condiciones de Vida (ECV). Año 2020. Disponible en:
  • Cardel, M. I., Johnson, S. L., Beck, J., Dhurandhar, E., Keita, A. D., Tomczik, A. C., … & Allison, D. B. (2016). The effects of experimentally manipulated social status on acute eating behavior: A randomized, crossover pilot study. Physiology & behavior162, 93-101.
  • Piff, P. K., Stancato, D. M., Côté, S., Mendoza-Denton, R., & Keltner, D. (2012). Higher social class predicts increased unethical behavior. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences109(11), 4086-4091.
  • Piff, P. K., Wiwad, D., Robinson, A. R., Aknin, L. B., Mercier, B., & Shariff, A. (2020). Shifting attributions for poverty motivates opposition to inequality and enhances egalitarianism. Nature Human Behaviour4(5), 496-505.

This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.