Economy

Sharp Increase in Americans’ Worry About Money

by Frank Newport

Worry has increased, although it is lower on weekends

PRINCETON, NJ -- About 4 out of 10 Americans in recent weeks report that they worried about money "yesterday," a sentiment that increased sharply in mid-September, and that, despite having fluctuated somewhat since that point, remains higher now than it was earlier this year.

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The percentage of Americans who responded "yes" when asked if they worried about money the previous day as part of Gallup Poll Daily tracking was around the 35% level for most of the year leading up to mid-September. At that point, when the Wall Street financial crisis became front-page news, worry about money jumped to as high as 48% in early to mid-October. Since that time, worry has fluctuated, dropping to around the 40% level at several points, but increasing slightly in recent days. For the first 12 days of November, the average percentage worried has been 41%, while 59% of Americans on average have said they did not worry about money.

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An analysis of responses to this question by day of interview (using data from Oct. 1 through Nov. 12 to provide a larger sample size) shows that worry is lowest when the day in question is Saturday or Sunday (in other words, when respondents are interviewed on Sunday and Monday and are asked about their worries "yesterday"), with higher numbers when the day in question is Monday through Friday.

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There are, as would be expected, significant variations in worry about money across subgroups of the population, some of the more interesting of which will be discussed in the sections that follow.

Age

Despite the fact that many older Americans are on fixed incomes and may have seen their investment income shrink in recent months because of the drop in the stock market, Americans who are 65 and older are significantly less likely to say they worried about money the previous day than are those who are younger.

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Worry about money is most widespread among Americans under 50, a little less so among those 50 to 64 years of age, and, as noted, much less prevalent among those who are 65 and older.

Gender

Women are somewhat more likely to worry about money than are men.

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Given the relationship between age and worry about money, it is not surprising to find the expected interrelationship between gender and age on this question. As can be seen in the accompanying table, women under 50 are the most likely of the four gender/age groups to say they worried about money the previous day.

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Income

As would be expected, worry about money is inversely related to income. In general, the higher the income, the lower the worry level. Worry stretches from 52% among those who report making less than $24,000 a year to a low of 33% among those making $90,000 a year or more.

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Smoking and Worry About Money

Finally, there is an interesting and not-easy-to-explain relationship between smoking and worry about money. Smokers are significantly more likely to say they worried about money the previous day than are those who don't smoke.

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Smokers do tend to be somewhat younger and to have lower socioeconomic status than nonsmokers, but Gallup analysis suggests that even within income and education groups, smokers are more likely than nonsmokers to worry about money. It is unclear whether people who are predisposed to be worriers are also predisposed to smoke, whether smoking is a response to worrisome situations, or whether perhaps smokers worry about money because they spend so much of it on cigarettes.

Implications

It is not surprising to find that Americans are now more likely to say they worry about money than they were earlier this year. Perhaps it is most surprising to find that even in this time of economic turmoil, more than half of Americans on an average day say they did not worry about money.

The weekend, it appears from these data, provides at least a little break from monetary concerns. Plus, it is clear from the data that there is the entirely predictable relationship between income and worry about money, with those who make the most worrying the least.

Older Americans, despite being on fixed incomes for the most part and to some degree at the mercy of market forces beyond their control, are least likely to have worried about money the previous day. It may be that they have fewer concerns about losing their jobs (since most are retired or not working), that they have fewer unexpected expenses, or that they have simply learned over the years not to let short-term worries concern them.

The big-picture implication of personal worry about money is that it translates into reduced consumer spending. Certainly from most news reports, retailers have been reporting downturns in their sales at the same time that these attitudinal data show an increase in monetary worries.

Survey Methods

Results are based on telephone interviews with 6,029 national adults, aged 18 and older, conducted Nov. 1-12, 2008, as part of Gallup Poll Daily tracking. For results based on the total sample of national adults, one can say with 95% confidence that the maximum margin of sampling error is ±2 percentage points.

Interviews are conducted with respondents on land-line telephones (for respondents with a land-line telephone) and cellular phones (for respondents who are cell-phone only).

In addition to sampling error, question wording and practical difficulties in conducting surveys can introduce error or bias into the findings of public opinion polls.

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