In Brief

When people's desire for money is driven by such motives as climbing the social ladder, power and overcoming self-doubt, they're less likely to report a sense of positive well-being, according to a new study.

However, the findings also show that not all people who feel that money is important automatically report low well-being.

In the study, University of Maryland researchers Abhishek Srivastava, Edwin Locke, PhD, and Kathryn Bartol, PhD, developed a scale to measure people's motives for making money and investigated whether those drives influenced the relationship between the importance they put on making money and their subjective well-being.

To create the scale, the researchers surveyed 240 business students and, from their responses, identified 10 motives for making money: security, family support, market worth, pride, leisure, freedom, impulse, charity, social comparison and overcoming self-doubt. The researchers then collected data from 266 business students on the importance of making money, the amount of money they aspired to make and their current well-being.

After controlling for gender and income, the study found that people who placed a higher importance on money when compared with other goals--such as a satisfying family life or doing work one enjoys--were more likely to report a low subjective well-being on the administered mental health index.

However, only participants who valued money but had negative motives for making it, such as social comparison or overcoming self-doubt, were likely to report negative well-being. This was not true for those who placed an importance on making money for positive reasons, such as supporting their families.

The study also reports that participants who valued money for positive motives "were neutral with respect to their effects on subjective well-being," implying that positive motives for making money neither benefit nor harm subjective well-being. Neither was there a relationship between the actual amount of money people desired to make and their well-being. Researchers found the same results with a sample of 145 entrepreneurs.

The results show that "a confident, able person may seek to earn a lot of money, but it does not necessarily follow that money will be the only or most important thing in this person's life," the authors write.

The study "Money and subjective well-being: It's not the money, it's the motives," will appear in the June Journal of Personality and Social Psychology: Personality Process and Individual Differences (Vol. 80, No. 6).