Our childhood influences how we spend money

Children growing up in a difficult climate can develop a problematic relationship with money. American researchers have investigated this question.

Posted at 6:00 am

Stephanie Berube

Stephanie Berube
The press

We know that a troubled childhood is very likely to follow us into adulthood. It can also affect how we behave when dealing with money.

Emily Johnson, a doctoral student at the University of Kentucky and a co-signatory of the study, specified several factors from the outset Past Traumas: The Effects of Negative Childhood Experiences on Attachment, Beliefs, and Behaviors About Money and Financial Transparency in Adulthood.

The spectrum is wide: A childhood of physical or psychological abuse, neglect, money problems or simply dealing with expenses within the family is likely to have a negative impact on our relationship with money later on, specifies the researcher who was present in Lexington on Monday.

Emily Johnson and her team already knew that difficult childhoods affect adult life, including managing finances. “In therapy, we always look at the situation with this idea that our childhood influences our attitudes now,” says the researcher, who is continuing her studies in economics and family finance.

The financial situation of the family will also have an influence on how we deal with our expenses later.

“A child who grows up in an environment where they feel a lack of financial resources risks developing either of these two behaviors: they may feel a sense of lack and will be afraid to spend money for fear of running out of money to have; Conversely, if his adult income is better, he may want to spend a lot on his social image. »

In this research, the notion of attachment is a key concept.

“We speak of a healthy attachment when the child feels comfortable and protected by the responsible adults, we read in the American study. He knows he can count on these adults to meet his physical and emotional needs. This will show up in his financial status later in life. »

The good news is that the results of analyzing the data collected conclude that children who have received adequate support grow into adults who tend to spend less. But we shouldn’t conclude that a happy childhood is foolproof protection against money problems, warns Emily Johnson: “On average, however, the risk is lower. »

money and marriage

The researchers were also interested in the money within the couple. They conclude that there is a link between childhood attachment difficulties and the couple’s lack of financial transparency.

A child who has wondered if they can trust adults, including their own parents, will behave more suspiciously later, says Emily Johnson. “He’ll feel less comfortable talking openly about finances with his partner,” she says. Communication becomes difficult. »

But, says the researcher, who is herself a family and couples therapist, money problems are a leading cause of divorce in the US.

Spouses go to therapy when the couple is struggling, but rarely bring up financial matters and fail to see the connection between one and the other.

The same goes for individual therapy, where finances are rarely discussed, even when they concern the counselor, Emily Johnson clarifies.

So what to do when you suddenly realize that you have a behavioral problem with money, and that it may stem from a lack long ago?

“It’s never too late to see a psychologist,” Emily Johnson replies without hesitation. Ideally a therapist who specializes in finance, or at least a professional who is good at discussing the subject. »

The three researchers who co-signed this study accessed online data on 500 Americans ages 18 to 75 through Amazon’s Mechanical Turk website, which operates on a volunteer basis.

The main limitation of the study, explains Emily Johnson, is the way participants perceive childhood trauma, and therefore she intends to continue research in this relatively unexplored area. She herself wants to be interested in debt and how it affects our well-being, our mood, our anxiety, even though it can contribute to depression.

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