In an Economic Crisis, How Time is More Valuable Than Money

Research reveals how relationships with family and friends are priceless

Posted Mar 24, 2020

Jill Wellington/Pixabay
Source: Jill Wellington/Pixabay

We have all heard that money cannot “buy love.” We also know that it cannot buy happiness. But it can definitely provide a more comfortable life in terms of making ends meet. 

If you are lucky enough to be able to telework, you can enjoy an income as well as more family time, including the time you would otherwise spend commuting, which for some people is substantial. If you have the type of job that does not lend itself to remote working, you can still maximize your time off by spending valuable time with loved ones, many of whom may be great sounding boards you can use to brainstorm your next move financially.

True, the conversation around the kitchen table may be less stressful when there is food on the plates and money in the bank. But as much as we discuss the financial impacts of forced business closures on the economy as well as individuals, research reveals that many people consider time to be far more valuable than money.

The Value of Time Over Money

Ashley V. Whillans and Elizbeth W. Dunn examined whether the preference for time versus money, and the trade-offs people make to balance the two, shape social relationships.[i] In a piece entitled “Valuing Time over Money Is Associated with Greater Social Connection” (2019) they found exactly that: Prioritizing relationships results in a higher level of social investment.

Analyzing the results of the three studies they conducted, they found that people who prioritized time over money were more invested in daily social interactions, such as spending more time socializing with a new colleague. They note that their findings cannot be attributed to demographic factors such as socioeconomic status, age, or gender, or by extraversion. In their words, as their title declares, their research suggests that “valuing time over money facilitates social connection.”

They noted that within a survey of over 30,000 workers, over 90 percent reported experiencing levels of “moderate-to-high” role overload, which indicated they were attempting to meet the responsibilities of both life and work by trying to accomplish too many things at the same time. They note that the resulting social cost of this busyness, as reported by the majority of respondents, was having insufficient time to spend with family and friends.  

Interestingly, Whillans and Dunn also note that according to prior research, not only has the number of hours people spend working has remained approximately the same over the last 50 years, but people have more leisure time today than 40 years ago. They acknowledge that a factor missing from these statistics is an appreciation of how individuals value time versus money.

They also note something that most people can all relate to in some sense—the enjoyment of socializing. They cite prior research in acknowledging that even transitory social interactions with acquaintances as well as strangers shape a sense of social belonging. They give the example of how chatting up the barista at Starbucks, rather than viewing the contact as simply a financial transaction, can significantly boost both mood and sense of belonging.

The authors found that people who valued money over time viewed social interaction differently. Specifically, they showed less interest in socializing when it could detract from their ability to work, study, or otherwise complete an activity. In a workplace setting, they were less interested in non work-related conversation that might jeopardize their productivity. Accordingly, they propose that their results should be "most pronounced when socializing comes at a cost to productivity.” 

Building Social Capital While Social Distancing

Whillans and Dunn note that social belonging is enhanced through social interactions that have weak ties, such as work or school acquaintances, as well as strong ties—such as the kind we enjoy with family and close friends. They observe that individuals who place a higher value on money, and socialize less both on and off the job “might be at the greatest risk for social disconnection.”

The authors also recognize a correlation that we already recognize instinctively: the relationship between social contact and well-being. Although closed stores and workplaces decrease the opportunity for socializing with colleagues, one practical implication of such research within households is the reminder to appreciate the value of quality time spent with loved ones.

Most people agree that at the end of life, we are unlikely to say that we wished we had spent more time at the office. Accordingly, operating from home, regardless of compensation, is a chance to enjoy precious time with those who matter to us the most. And that opportunity is priceless.

References

[i] Whillans, Ashley V., and Elizabeth W. Dunn. 2019. “Valuing Time over Money Is Associated with Greater Social Connection.” Journal of Social and Personal Relationships 36 (8): 2549–65. doi:10.1177/0265407518791322.