Science proves what we've suspected all along that money can't buy love or friendship

Marie Claire Dorking
·3-min read
New research has confirmed that money can't buy you love or friendship. (Getty Images)
New research has confirmed that money can't buy you love or friendship. (Getty Images)

The Beatles may have sung about not being able to buy love, but now science has backed-up their claims that money can’t buy love or friendship.

Researchers from Harvard Business School and the University at Buffalo have discovered what we’ve all long suspected that those who base their self-worth purely on their finances, can end up feeling isolated, lonely, and lacking meaningful relationships.

The research, published in the journal Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, involved more than 2,500 participants over five different studies and analysed relationships between financial contingency of self-worth and key variables, such as time spent with others, loneliness and social disconnection.

The analysis included a daily diary study following those taking part over a two-week period to assess how they were feeling about the importance of money and time spent engaged in numerous social activities.

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Previous findings had revealed a link between valuing who you are in terms of financial success and negative social outcomes, but researchers wanted to look into why those links were occurring.

“When people base their self-worth on financial success, they experience feelings of pressure and a lack of autonomy, which are associated with negative social outcomes,” says study co-author Lora Park, an associate professor of psychology at UB, in a press release.

“Feeling that pressure to achieve financial goals means we’re putting ourselves to work at the cost of spending time with loved ones, and it’s that lack of time spent with people close to us that are associated with feeling lonely and disconnected,” adds Deborah Ward, a UB graduate student and adjunct faculty member at the UB’s psychology department.

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Pursuing financial goals shouldn't come at the expense of relationships. (Getty Images)
Pursuing financial goals shouldn't come at the expense of relationships. (Getty Images)

So it seems that if we choose to prioritise climbing the financial ladder, over putting in the effort with friends and family, it could have some pretty major repercussions on your mental wellbeing.

Not to mention, the friends and family you haven’t spoken to in months, aren’t actually going to be that excited about that £20K promotion you just landed.

Researchers place value on the role of social networks and personal relationships for mental wellbeing, and suggest people should nurture those connections, even while pursuing financial and other life goals.

“Depression and anxiety are tied to isolation, and we’re certainly seeing this now with the difficulties we have connecting with friends during the COVID-19 pandemic,” says Ward.

“These social connections are important. We need them as humans in order to feel secure, to feel mentally healthy and happy. But much of what’s required to achieve success in the financial domain comes at the expense of spending time with family and friends.”

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Researchers go on to discuss something known as Financial Contingency of Self-Worth, which explains that when people’s self-worth is contingent on money, they view their financial success as being tied to the core of who they are as a person.

This then follows that the success they feel they have financially, is closely related to how they feel about themselves as a person.

“When people base their self-worth on financial success, they experience feelings of pressure and a lack of autonomy, which are associated with negative social outcomes,” explains Park.

The researchers point out, that there’s actually nothing wrong with setting yourself financial goals, but it striving to achieve those goals shouldn’t come at the expense of other areas of your life.

So just like most things in life, it’s really about striking a balance between financial ambition and valuable relationships.