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Money makes people more right-wing, lottery study finds

Feb. 6, 2014
Courtesy of the University of Warwick
and World Science staff

Lot­tery win­ners tend to switch to­wards sup­port for a right-wing po­lit­i­cal par­ty and to be­come less egal­i­tar­ian, ac­cord­ing to new re­search in the U.K. 

“We are not sure ex­actly what goes on in­side peo­ple’s brains,” said Nick Powd­tha­vee of the of the Lon­don School of Eco­nom­ics, who co-led the stu­dy, “but it seems that hav­ing mon­ey causes peo­ple to fa­vor con­serv­a­tive right-wing ideas. Hu­mans are crea­tures of flex­i­ble ethics.”


He and An­drew Os­wald of the Uni­vers­ity of War­wick in the U.K. an­a­lyzed da­ta on thou­sands of peo­ple and on lot­tery wins up to 200,000 pounds ster­ling (a­bout $325,000). They found that the larg­er the win, the more peo­ple tilt to the right. 

Their find­ings are pub­lished on­line at www.an­drew­os­wald.com or www.powd­tha­vee.co.uk.

Os­wald said he had be­come doubt­ful of the view that mor­al­ity was an ob­jec­tive choice. “In the vot­ing booth, mon­e­tary self-in­ter­est casts a long shad­ow, de­spite peo­ple’s pro­testa­t­ions that there are in­tel­lec­tu­al rea­sons for vot­ing for low tax rates,” he said.

Us­ing a “na­t­ionally rep­re­sent­a­tive” sam­ple of lot­tery win­ners in the UK – the Brit­ish House­hold Pan­el Sur­vey – the re­search­ers ex­plored the ob­served changes in po­lit­i­cal al­le­giance of the big­ger win­ners to the smaller win­ners. The ef­fect is size­a­ble, they said. Win­ning a few thou­sand pounds in the lot­tery has an ef­fect on right-wing­ness that is just un­der half of com­plet­ing a good stand­ard of educa­t­ion (i.e. A-levels) at high school.

The lot­tery win­ning ef­fect is far stronger for males than fe­males, the au­thors said, but they weren’t sure why. The study had no­body who won mil­lions and mil­lions. “We’d cer­tainly love to be able to track the views of the rare gi­ant win­ners,” said Os­wald, “if any lot­tery company would like to work with our re­search team.”


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Lottery winners tend to switch towards support for a right-wing political party and to become less egalitarian, according to new research in the U.K. “We are not sure exactly what goes on inside people’s brains”, said Nick Powdthavee of the of the London School of Economics, who co-led the study, “but it seems that having money causes people to favour conservative right-wing ideas. Humans are creatures of flexible ethics.” He and Andrew Oswald of the University of Warwick in the U.K. analyzed data on thousands of people and on lottery wins up to 200,000 pounds sterling (about $325,000). They found that the larger the win, the more people tilt to the right. Their findings are published online at www.andrewoswald.com or www.powdthavee.co.uk. Oswald said he had become doubtful of the view that morality was an objective choice. “In the voting booth, monetary self-interest casts a long shadow, despite people’s protestations that there are intellectual reasons for voting for low tax rates,” he said. Using a nationally representative sample of lottery winners in the UK – the British Household Panel Survey – the researchers explored the observed changes in political allegiance of the bigger winners to the smaller winners. The effect is sizeable, they said. Winning a few thousand pounds in the lottery has an effect on right-wingness that is just under half of completing a good standard of education (i.e. A-levels) at high school. The lottery winning effect is far stronger for males than females, the authors said, but they weren’t sure why. The study had nobody who wins millions and millions. “We’d certainly love to be able to track the views of the rare giant winners”, said Professor Oswald, “if any lottery company would like to work with our research team.”