A linguist send me an email with the above title and a link to a paper, “The Effect of Language on Economic Behavior: Evidence from Savings Rates, Health Behaviors, and Retirement Assets,” by M. Keith Chen, which begins:
Languages differ widely in the ways they encode time. I test the hypothesis that languages that grammatically associate the future and the present, foster future-oriented behavior. This prediction arises naturally when well-documented e§ects of language structure are merged with models of intertemporal choice. Empirically, I find that speakers of such languages: save more, retire with more wealth, smoke less, practice safer sex, and are less obese. This holds both across countries and within countries when comparing demographically similar native households. The evidence does not support the most obvious forms of common causation. I discuss implications for theories of intertemporal choice.
I think it’d be well-nigh impossible to separate the effect of speaking West Greenlandic from living in West Greenland, or more reasonably, speaking Finnish from living in Finland. Who else speaks Finnish (maybe some Swedes?)
B-b-but . . . the paper is scheduled to appear in the American Economic Review! Short of Science, Nature, and Psychological Science, that’s probably the most competitive and prestigious journal in the universe.
More seriously, this is an interesting case because I have no intuition about the substance of the matter (unlike various examples in psychology and political science). The theoretical microeconomic model in the paper seems ridiculous to me, that’s for sure, but I have no good way to think about the cross-country comparisons, one way or another.