Does Retirement Planning Predict Healthy Behaviors?

By Nevin Adams • August 11, 2016 • 0 Comments
We’ve heard that financial wellness contributes to physical wellness — but could saving for retirement be an indicator as to who will take steps to improve their health?

A pair of Washington University researchers claim to have found that the decision to contribute to a 401(k) plan predicted whether an individual acted to correct poor physical-health indicators revealed during an employer-sponsored health examination. In fact, they found that existing retirement-contribution patterns and future health improvements were highly correlated.

The study found that individuals who had previously chosen to save for the future by making 401(k) contributions improved their health significantly more than noncontributors did, even though there were few health differences between the two groups before program implementation.

Specifically, they found that employees who saved for the future by contributing to a 401(k) showed improvements in their abnormal blood-test results and health behaviors approximately 27% more often than noncontributors did. In the 2014 paper “Healthy, Wealthy, and Wise: Retirement Planning Predicts Employee Health Improvements”, the researchers claim that while health and financial discounting appear to be domain independent at any given point in time, financial discounting predicts dynamic responses to health information.

The study concluded that their analysis suggests that the same underlying psychological factors that are linked to retirement planning also predict health-improvement behaviors. While they were unable to directly identify what drives this apparent connection, they noted that their “rich panel data and extensive demographic controls cast doubt on alternative mechanisms, such as advice taking, conscientiousness, and cognitive ability, although other mechanisms, such as self-efficacy expectations and views of the future self, may have influenced our results.”

Note that they also cautioned that care should be used in generalizing the results, which were based on a relatively small sample of repeat-participant, long-term employees.

The study took place at an industrial laundry company with facilities in multiple states. The company instituted an organization-wide wellness program that offered its employees annual biometric screenings from 2010 to 2012. Subjects were 414 workers employed between 2010 and 2012 in the laundry company’s corporate headquarters and in the seven nonunion plants that participated in the study.