THE WEALTHY: A FINANCIAL
Bradley T. Klontz
Kansas State University
New York Times, New York,
Martin C. Seay and Anthony Canale
Kansas State University
Drawing from the theories of money ambivalence, cognitive dissonance, envy, and
relative deprivation, this study sought to explore stereotypes of the wealthy. Specﬁcally,
it examined the ﬁnancial psychology, demographics, and ﬁnancial behaviors of a sample
of wealthy individuals and a sample of other relatively high-income and high-net-worth
individuals, and it compared these characteristics to see what, if any, differences exist.
Results show that wealthy individuals exhibited signiﬁcant psychological differences,
including lower levels of money avoidance, loss aversion, and ﬁnancial stress; higher
levels of life and ﬁnancial satisfaction, ﬁnancial knowledge, internal locus of control;
and a fundamental drive to follow their passions and increase their wealth. With regard
to ﬁnancial behaviors, the wealthy spent signiﬁcantly more on their most recent pur-
chases but were not more likely to be ﬁnancially dependent on nonwork income and
were not more reclusive. A deeper understanding of the wealthy can help mental-health
providers better serve this population and help individuals aspiring to increase their
income and net worth by challenging inaccurate beliefs about this population’s psychol-
ogy and ﬁnancial behaviors.
Keywords: wealthy, mass afﬂuent, ﬁnancial psychology, money beliefs, money scripts
Since the 1970s, economic trends have served to create a growing wealth gap between the top
earners and average Americans (Stone, Trisi, Sherman, & Chen, 2013). In recent years, political
candidates and media alike have highlighted this gap, with the “One Percent” emerging as a popular
phrase to describe Americans whose income and/or net worth was in the 99th percentile. Much has
been written about this group of individuals in the popular press, often from a place of frustration
and anger. In the 2012, the gap between the 1% and the 99% became a rallying point in the
presidential election (Dewan & Gebeloff, 2012). Stereotypes of the reclusive, multigenerational
Bradley T. Klontz, College of Human Ecology, Institute of Personal Financial Planning, Kansas State Univer-
sity; Paul Sullivan, New York Times, New York, New York; Martin C. Seay and Anthony Canale, College of
Human Ecology, Institute of Personal Financial Planning, Kansas State University.
We thank United Capital, Platinum Advisor Strategies, Intrinsic Wealth Counsel, and Envision Wealth
Planning for their assistance with this research project.
Correspondence concerning this article should be addressed to Bradley T. Klontz, College of Human
Ecology, Institute of Personal Financial Planning, Kansas State University, 312 Justin Hall, Manhattan, KS
66506-1403. E-mail: email@example.com
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money-hoarding, spoiled, private-schooled, antitax, and nefarious wealthy seemed to have gained
popular support, with help in part from media attention received by the Occupy Wall Street
Movement (Dunn, 2012).
In recent years, resentment toward wealthier individuals has seemed palpable. Interestingly,
empirical evidence has lent support to the connection between wealth and a propensity toward
malfeasance. For example, researchers from the University of California-Berkeley observed that,
because of more access to material resources and a higher social rank, wealthy people have less
compassion for the suffering of others than do those in lower socioeconomic classes (Stellar, Manzo,
Kraus, & Keltner, 2012). Researchers have documented incidences in which individuals from
upper-class families are uncomfortable identifying themselves as such and try to distance them-
selves from those with a similar socioeconomic status (SES) because of negative stereotypes of
upper-class privilege (McDowell et al., 2013). However, it is uncertain the extent to which negative
stereotypes of the wealthy are the result of consistent patterns of negative behaviors on the part of
the wealthy or psychological factors of those who hold them in ill-regard.
What follows is a discussion about negative money beliefs and antiwealthy sentiments and an
exploration of three psychological constructs that can help explain the etiology and maintenance of
these beliefs. A review of the literature identifying psychological differences between higher income
individuals and lower income individuals is then presented. Lastly, the ﬁnancial psychology,
demographics, and ﬁnancial behaviors of a sample of wealthy individuals and a sample of other
relatively high-income and high-net-worth individuals are compared to see what, if any, differences
Rich People Are Greedy and Money Corrupts
While membership in a lower socioeconomic class is associated with a host of negative affective,
social, health, and economic experiences, the perceived association between wealth and maleﬁcence
has a long tradition. According to the King James Version of the Bible, “The love of money is the
root of all evil” (1 Timothy 6:10) and “It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than
for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God” (Matthew 19:24). Recently, money beliefs,
including antirich and antimoney sentiments (e.g., “Rich people are greedy,” “Money corrupts
people,” “It is not okay to have more than you need,” “Good people should not care about money”),
have been the target of scholarly attention. Not surprisingly, these types of negative money beliefs
have been associated with lower income and lower net worth and a host of disordered money
behaviors (Klontz & Britt, 2012;Klontz, Britt, Mentzer, & Klontz, 2011).
Unfortunately, while social class is an important contextual variable for individuals and
families, it is a relatively neglected topic in the mental-health literature (McDowell et al., 2013).
Even so, several psychological constructs can aid in our understanding of the feelings of inferiority,
resentment, and envy felt toward wealthier individuals. These include money ambivalence and
cognitive dissonance, the psychology of envy, and the theory or relative deprivation.
Money Ambivalence and Cognitive Dissonance
Even those who hold strong antiwealthy beliefs would be hard-pressed to refuse a pay increase at
work, an inheritance, or a lottery win based on principle. Ambivalence has been deﬁned as “the
experience of simultaneously positive and negative affect toward the same person, object, or
behavior that draws us in opposite directions and leads to some level of phenomenological
discomfort” (Weingardt, 2000, p. 298). There is some empirical support for the concept of money
ambivalence, the simultaneous positive and negative thoughts and feelings a person holds toward
For example, endorsers of antirich and antimoney beliefs are also more likely to endorse
money-worship scripts, believing that “More money would make you happier,” and “You can never
have enough money” (Klontz & Britt, 2012). The simultaneous love and hate of money may help
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128 KLONTZ, SULLIVAN, SEAY, AND CANALE
explain why wealthier individuals are targets for the frustration and anger experienced by members
of lower socioeconomic classes who aspire to raise their socioeconomic standing. At ﬁrst blush,
simultaneously despising the wealthy and worshiping money may seem incompatible. However, it
is worthwhile to keep in mind the tremendous social, health, and material beneﬁts of membership
in a higher socioeconomic class. One’s perceived SES may be even more important than actual
ﬁnancial status (Adler & Snibbe, 2003).
Psychological discomfort is a natural consequence of the love– hate, push–pull, and approach–avoidance
experience of money ambivalence. Cognitive-dissonance theory postulates that an individual’s awareness
of conﬂicting beliefs creates psychological discomfort, which motivates the individual to alleviate the
discomfort (Elliot & Devine, 1994;Festinger, 1962). As such, when an individual has arrived at a
belief about money, cognitive-dissonance theory suggests that conﬂicting information may not be
given its due consideration. It has been hypothesized that when a particular money belief was
developed in a dramatic way and is associated with strong emotion, it can be highly resistant to
change (Klontz & Klontz, 2009). Cognitive dissonance has been identiﬁed as an important psycho-
logical construct in making sense of self-destructive ﬁnancial behaviors, including the tendency of
investors to irrationally hold onto losing investments (Goetzmann & Peles, 1997). In addition to the
psychological discomfort associated with an approach–avoidance relationship with money and
efforts to alleviate negative feelings through cognitive distortions, watching others enjoy the
advantages of wealth while feeling left out can lead to feelings of envy.
The Psychology of Envy
Envy has been deﬁned as “an unpleasant, often painful emotion characterized by feelings of
inferiority, hostility, and resentment produced by an awareness of another person or group of
person’s who enjoy a desired possession, position, attribute, or quality of being” (Smith & Kim,
2007, p. 47). Smith and Kim (2007) note that when we experience envy, we often feel that the target
of our envy does not deserve their advantage, that our disadvantage is undeserved, and as a result,
we feel a sense of injustice. They note that people feel envy around advantages enjoyed by others
with regard to relative social standing, which is associated with access to success. They also point
out that “we envy similar others who otherwise enjoy an advantage in an area linked to our
self-worth” (p. 50).
As such, we are most vulnerable to envying individuals who share one or more of our attributes,
such as gender and race, and this comparison toward those of like characteristics is well documented
through social-comparison theory (Festinger, 1954). Furthermore, we may hold particularly negative
views toward people who started out at a similar social class as we did but raised their relative
socioeconomic standing higher than we have. As a result of this envy, wealthy individuals may feel
a sense of paranoia and be more secretive about their income and ﬁnancial status. Secretiveness
around income has been associated with higher income and net worth and fewer self-destructive
ﬁnancial behaviors (Klontz & Britt, 2012). While wealthier individuals are privileged in society,
they may also be targeted for victimization because of their success. Research has found that envy
is a signiﬁcant predictor in the victimization of high performers (Kim & Glomb, 2014).
The Theory of Relative Deprivation
The theory of relative deprivation postulates that an individual’s level of satisfaction is not based on
their objective realties but on their life circumstances relative to the experiences of those around
them. Relative deprivation has been shown to be a strong predictor of prejudice toward another
group, as unfavorable comparisons lead to feelings of deprivation, which motivate hostility toward
another group at increasing levels with higher levels of relative deprivation (Dambrun, Taylor,
McDonald, Crush, & Meot, 2006). Furthermore, higher levels of afﬂuence in one’s reference group
can be associated with higher levels of relative deprivation, anger, and violence (Bernburg,
Thorlindsson, & Sigfusdottir, 2009). The theory of relative deprivation supports the notion that an
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129WEALTHY: A FINANCIAL PSYCHOLOGICAL PROFILE
increase in the wealth gap in the United States would correspond with increasing levels of anger
toward the wealthy.
Research has found that subjective well-being depends more on one’s sense of relative
deprivation than on one’s level of income (D’Ambrosio & Frick, 2007). Relative deprivation has
been linked to a preference for immediate smaller rewards at the expense of larger delayed rewards
(Callan, Shead, & Olson, 2011). When controlling for ﬁnancial status, perceived SES has been
associated with better physical and mental health (Adler & Snibbe, 2003). When individuals have
low social standing and are simultaneously highly biased against their lower social class, they are
at increased risk for health problems and disease (John-Henderson, Jacobs, Mendoza-Denton, &
Money ambivalence and cognitive dissonance, the psychology of envy, and the theory of
relative deprivation help explain some of the negative stereotypes associated with money and the
wealthy. This study examined the ﬁnancial psychology, demographics, and behaviors of a sample
of wealthy individuals, comparing them to other relatively high income and/or high net worth
individuals, to see what, if any differences exist. Furthermore, it explored some of the common
stereotypes associated with the wealthy to see which, if any, hold true, and which ones may be
misperceptions of this group of individuals. Insights gleaned from this study might be of beneﬁt to
mental-health providers and ﬁnancial professionals who are working with wealthier individuals. In
addition, mental-health providers and ﬁnancial professionals working with individuals who seek
higher incomes and higher net worth might beneﬁt from insight into how wealthy individuals think
or behave differently.
The Psychology of Wealth
Research has noted some differences between higher income individuals and lower income indi-
viduals on a number of psychological variables. There is strong evidence of personality traits being
associated with socioeconomic outcomes, job performance, physical health, and academic achieve-
ment (Borghans, Duckworth, Heckman, & Ter Weel, 2008;Chamorro-Premuzic & Furnham, 2003).
Personality traits have also been found to predict mortality, divorce, and success at work (Roberts,
Kuncel, Shiner, Caspi, & Goldberg, 2007).
Several personality traits have been tied to higher incomes and better economic outcomes.
Conscientiousness, which entails the tendency to be dependable, motivated, and to act with
self-discipline, is associated with higher income (Mueller & Plug, 2006;Heckman, Stixrud, &
Urzua, 2006), entrepreneurial intention and success (Zhao, Seibert, & Lumpkin, 2010), good job
performance (Almlund, Duckworth, Heckman, & Kautz, 2011), and academic success (Chamorro-
Premuzic & Furnham, 2003). Emotional stability is also associated with higher income (Mueller &
Plug, 2006) and better job performance (Almlund, Duckworth, Heckman, & Kautz, 2011;Gelissen
& de Graaf, 2006). Openness to experiences has also been found to be associated with higher levels
of income (Mueller & Plug, 2006).
Locus of control is another important psychological construct linked to income. Locus of control
is deﬁned as the extent to which someone sees his or her life being controlled by themselves or being
at the mercy of external factors outside of their control. Speciﬁcally, internal locus of control has
been found to be associated with higher income and wealth (Zagorsky, 2007), higher rates of
reemployment after a job loss (Gallo, Endrass, Bradley, Hell, & Kasl, 2003), and better spending
control (Perry & Morris, 2005). Having a strong sense of control over one’s life is also linked to
greater life satisfaction (Johnson & Krueger, 2006). Good self-esteem is also associated with higher
levels of wealth and income (Zagorsky, 2007).
Research has also linked speciﬁc money scripts to income and net worth. Money scripts are
beliefs about money that are typically held outside of conscious awareness until they are explored,
are often trans-generational, are developed in childhood, and inﬂuence ﬁnancial behaviors (Klontz
& Klontz, 2009). For example, Klontz and Britt (2012) found that money-vigilance beliefs, which
include themes of frugality and anxiety about money, are associated with higher income and appear
to be protective factors against destructive ﬁnancial behaviors. In a sample of 351 full-time workers,
130 KLONTZ, SULLIVAN, SEAY, AND CANALE
Klontz, Seay, Sullivan, and Canale (2014) found that money-status scripts, which include themes
that link one’s self-worth to their net worth, were a signiﬁcant predictor of inclusion in a group of
higher earners ($154,000 or greater) versus lower earners (median income of $80,000).
Socioeconomic status in childhood, ﬁnancial stress, ﬁnancial knowledge, and education are also
strong predictors of income. Lower SES has been associated with higher levels of risk-taking and
impulsiveness (Griskevicius et al., 2013), and childhood SES is an important predictor of ﬁnancial
and occupational success and educational attainment (Roberts et al., 2007).
Financial education, which can be acquired formally through high school and college classes,
personal-ﬁnance seminars, or informally through the mentoring of family members, friends, or
employers, can also have signiﬁcant impact on ﬁnancial outcomes (Perry & Morris, 2005). Not
surprisingly, higher levels of ﬁnancial knowledge, including knowledge around issues related to
credit, savings, investments, and mortgages, are associated with engagement in prudent ﬁnancial
behaviors such as paying bills on time and having emergency savings (Hilgert, Hogarth, & Beverly,
2003). Financial knowledge can also increase alongside increases in wealth and economic social-
ization (Hilgert et al., 2003).
Financial stress is associated with the inability to meet one’s economic responsibilities (North-
ern, O’Brien, & Goetz, 2010). It is inﬂuenced by attitudes, beliefs, and thoughts associated with
one’s demands and the economic resources available to meet those demands (Aldana & Liljenquist,
1998;Kim, Garman, & Sorhaindo, 2003). Individuals often link their self-worth with their ﬁnancial
status, and, as a result, ﬁnancial stress has been associated with negative life consequences affecting
health, self-care, psychological well-being, academic functioning, and interpersonal relationships
(Northern, O’Brien, & Goetz, 2010).
While a variety of personality and demographic factors have been found to be associated with
income, net worth, ﬁnancial satisfaction, and life satisfaction, little is known about how personality,
money beliefs, and ﬁnancial behaviors differ between the wealthy and other higher income and/or
higher net worth individuals.
Research Questions and Hypotheses
The aims of this study were to provide a description of wealthy individuals in the current sample
across a range of demographics, attitudes, and behaviors and to see what, if any psychological and
behavioral characteristics differentiate the wealthy from the mass afﬂuent. For the purposes of this
study, wealthy individuals were deﬁned as respondents who had $370,000 or more in yearly income
and/or $2.5 million or more in net worth. The term mass afﬂuent was used to describe the
comparison group, a term that has been used to describe those with higher income and net worth
than the “mass market” but less than those who would be classiﬁed as wealthy (e.g., Rumbaugh,
Based on previous literature and recent popular-culture interests, three research questions were
1. What are the demographic characteristics of wealthy individuals and mass-afﬂuent indi-
2. Are there differences in the psychological characteristics of wealthy individuals as com-
pared with the mass afﬂuent?
3. Are there differences in the ﬁnancial behaviors of wealthy individuals as compared with the
Corresponding hypotheses were developed to be investigated related to research Questions 2
Hypothesis 1: There are signiﬁcant differences in the psychological characteristics of wealthy
individuals as compared with the mass afﬂuent.
Hypothesis 2: There are signiﬁcant differences in the ﬁnancial behaviors of wealthy indi-
viduals as compared with the mass afﬂuent.
131WEALTHY: A FINANCIAL PSYCHOLOGICAL PROFILE
Because of the difﬁculty of obtaining data from this exclusive group, various standards have been
applied by researchers to delineate the wealthy. According to the Internal Revenue Service (2012),
in 2010 the top 1% of earners in the United States had income of $370,000 or higher, whereas the
top 10% of earners had incomes from $117,000 to $370,000. Net worth is also an important
benchmark for determining inclusion in the top tiers of wealth. It can be argued that net worth is
even more important than income in classifying degrees of wealth (Gebeloff & Dewan, 2012). While
comprehensive data on the net worth in U.S. households is more difﬁcult to access, the median net
worth for the top 10% of Americans in 2010 was approximately $1.2 million (Bricker, Kennickell,
Moore, & Sabelhaus, 2012).
For the purposes of this study, wealthy individuals were deﬁned as respondents who indicated
they had $370,000 or more in yearly income and/or $2.5 million or more in net worth. As such,
individuals in this sample classiﬁed as wealthy were in the top 1% to 5% of Americans in terms of
income and/or net worth. The sample used to explore this question consisted primarily of individuals
recruited through ﬁnancial-planning ﬁrms. Through the use of several listserves of ﬁnancial
planners, ﬁrms were invited to participate in a study on ﬁnancial psychology by passing the survey
link along to their clients via email. In total, 1,096 respondents participated in the survey in 2012.
As a result of this sampling method, the respondents tended to have signiﬁcantly higher self-reported
income (mean of $145,206; median of $85,000) and net worth (mean of $3,744,047; median of
$850,000) than the average U.S. population.
An overview of descriptive sample characteristics can be found in Table 1. Approximately 31%
of the sample (n⫽178) were members of the wealthy group as deﬁned by $2.5 million or more in
net worth and/or had $370,000 or more in yearly income. The wealthy in the sample had an average
approximate net worth of $10.7 million (median ⫽$2.2 million) and an average income of $271,000
(median ⫽$150,000). The comparison group in the study (n⫽837) had an average net worth of
$582,000 (median ⫽$500,000) and an average income of $88,000 (median ⫽$70,000). Given that
the income and net worth of the comparison group is much higher than that of the average American,
we used the term mass afﬂuent to describe them.
The total sample was slightly skewed toward males (63%) and individuals over the age of 55
(68%), which may be expected given that respondents were identiﬁed through ﬁnancial planners.
The vast majority of the sample was White (94%), had at least a college education (77%), and
reported being married (73%). The majority of the sample attended a public high school, including
75% of the wealthy and 81% of the mass afﬂuent. Fifty-seven percent of the wealthy reported
working full time (53% for the mass afﬂuent), while ⬃32% reported being retired (38% of the mass
afﬂuent were retired). Lastly, 58% of the wealthy in the sample reported that their family has been
at its current socioeconomic level for just one generation, with 48% of the mass afﬂuent reporting
the same. Just 15% of the wealthy in the sample reported that their family has been at its current SES
for three or more generations, while this was true for 21% of the mass afﬂuent.
The variables of interest in this study included a range of measures developed around demographic
characteristics, psychological variables, and ﬁnancial behaviors.
Demographic characteristics. Sociodemographic characteristics of interest included gender,
age, race/ethnicity, marital status, education, work status, attendance in public or private high
school, occupation, and length at which one’s family has been at its current socioeconomic level:
one generation (me), two generations (my parents and me), three generations (grandparents, parents,
and me), four generations (great-grandparents, grandparents, parents, and me), or ﬁve or more
generations. Self-reported subjective SES in childhood was measured through the use of the
MacArthur Scale of Subjective SES (Adler, Epel, Castellazzo, & Ickovics, 2000). On this single-
item, 10-point scale, participants were asked to place themselves on a ladder representing the SES
132 KLONTZ, SULLIVAN, SEAY, AND CANALE
of people in the United States based on money, education, and jobs, where 1 ⫽the people who are
the worst off and 10 ⫽the people who are the best off. To measure subjective SES during childhood,
the ﬁrst sentence of the question was changed to, “Where on this ladder would you place your family
during your growing up years?”
Money scripts. The Klontz Money Script Inventory-Revised (KMSI-R) was used to assess
money beliefs (Klontz, Seay, Sullivan, & Canale, 2014). In prior research, the four KMSI subscales
have been shown to correlate with income, net worth, and revolving credit and are associated with
a range of disordered money behaviors (Klontz & Britt, 2012;Klontz et al., 2011). The subscales
include Money Avoidance, Money Status, Money Worship, and Money Vigilance.
Money avoidance beliefs include statements such as “money corrupts people,” “rich people are
greedy,” “people get rich by taking advantage of others,” and “good people should not care about
money.” Money avoidance has been found to be negatively associated with income (r⫽⫺.23) and
net worth (r⫽⫺.22; Klontz et al. 2011) and positively associated with compulsive buying,
workaholism, ﬁnancial dependence, ﬁnancial enabling, and ﬁnancial denial (Klontz & Britt, 2012).
Money worship includes beliefs such as “more money will make you happier,” “things would get
better if I had more money,” and “money would solve all my problems.” Money worship is
Sample Bivariate Characteristics
sample % Wealthy nWealthy %
Male 637 63.07 126 70.79 511 61.42
Female 373 36.93 52 29.21 321 38.58
Less than 44 157 15.54 20 11.24 137 16.47
Age 45–54 167 16.53 36 20.22 131 15.75
Age 55–64 306 30.30 60 33.71 246 29.57
Age 65 plus 380 37.62 62 34.83 318 38.22
White 946 93.66 170 95.51 776 93.27
Non-White 64 6.34 8 4.49 56 6.73
Less than college graduate 277 27.43 30 16.85 247 29.69
College graduate 394 39.01 70 39.33 324 38.94
Postgraduate degree 339 33.56 78 43.82 261 31.37
Type of high school
Public 819 81.09 133 74.72 686 17.55
Private 191 18.91 45 25.28 146 82.45
Married 737 72.97 145 81.46 592 71.24
Previously married 169 16.73 21 11.80 148 17.81
Single 103 10.20 12 6.74 91 10.95
Full-time 531 52.57 100 56.49 431 52.24
Retired 379 37.52 56 31.64 323 39.15
Other work 92 9.11 21 11.86 71 8.61
Generational money status
First generation 486 48.12 102 57.63 384 46.77
Second generation 298 29.50 49 27.68 249 30.33
Third generation or more 214 21.19 26 14.69 188 22.90
133WEALTHY: A FINANCIAL PSYCHOLOGICAL PROFILE
negatively correlated with income (r⫽⫺.13), net worth (r⫽⫺.24), and paying off one’s credit
cards monthly so as not to accrue interest (r⫽⫺.16; Klontz et al., 2011) and positively associated
with compulsive buying, hoarding, workaholism, ﬁnancial dependence, ﬁnancial enabling, and
ﬁnancial denial. Money status beliefs include statements such as “I will not buy something unless
it is new” and “your self-worth equals your net worth.” Money-status beliefs are negatively
associated with income (r⫽⫺.13), positively correlated with growing up in a lower socioeconomic
household (r⫽.10), and predictive of compulsive buying, gambling disorder, hoarding, workaho-
lism, ﬁnancial dependence, ﬁnancial enabling, ﬁnancial denial, ﬁnancial enmeshment, and lying to
one’s spouse about spending.
In contrast, the fourth subscale, money vigilance entails beliefs around the importance of
frugality and saving and has been found to be a ﬁnancial-health-protective factor. Money-vigilance
beliefs include statements such as “it is important to save for a rainy day,” “you should not tell
others how much money you have or make,” and “money should be saved not spent.” Money
vigilance has been found to be positively correlated with paying off one’s credit cards each month
(r⫽.10) and lower levels of compulsive buying, pathological gambling, ﬁnancial-enabling
behaviors, ﬁnancial denial, and lying to one’s spouse or partner around spending. The KMSI-R
retains 32 of the original 51 KMSI items. Internal consistency coefﬁcients (Cronbach’s alpha ⫽␣)
for the KMSI-R have ranged as follows: money avoidance ⫽.81–.84, money worship ⫽.69 –.75,
money status ⫽.74 –.75, and money vigilance ⫽.63–.66 (Britt, Klontz, Tibbetts, & Leitz, 2014;
Klontz, Seay, Sullivan, & Canale, 2014). Internal consistency for the KMSI-R in the current study
were as follows: money avoidance ␣⫽.82, money worship ␣⫽.68, money status ␣⫽.73, and
money vigilance ␣⫽.58.
Locus of control. Locus of control was measured using a 7-item External Locus of Control
Scale based on Rotter’s (1975,1966) Locus of Control Scale. This scale was included in the 1999
Freddie Mac Consumer Credit Survey of consumer characteristics (Grable, Archuleta, & Roy, 2011)
and has been used in other research on ﬁnancial behaviors, with Cronbach’s ␣of .76 (Grable, Park,
& Joo, 2009) and .87 (Perry & Morris, 2005) reported. Respondents indicated their level of
agreement using a 5-point Likert-type scale. Items included statements such as, “There really is no
way I can solve some of my problems” and “I have little control over the things that happen to me.”
Two items are reversed scored, with scores ranging from 7–35. Higher scores indicate a tendency
toward an external locus of control. A Cronbach’s ␣for the current study of .79 was observed.
Financial satisfaction, ﬁnancial stress, and ﬁnancial knowledge. Measures of ﬁnancial sat-
isfaction, ﬁnancial stress, and subjective ﬁnancial knowledge were collected to investigate individ-
ual’s perception of their current ﬁnancial situation. Financial satisfaction, ﬁnancial stress, and
ﬁnancial knowledge were all measured on one-item 10-point-stair-step questions used by Joo and
Grable (2004). Speciﬁcally, ﬁnancial stress was assessed by asking respondents “How stressed do
you feel about your personal ﬁnances?” on a scale of 1 to 10, where 1 ⫽not at all,5⫽average,
and 10 ⫽extremely. With regard to ﬁnancial knowledge, respondents were asked “How would you
rate your ﬁnancial knowledge level compared to your friends?” on a scale of 1 to 10, where 1 ⫽
lowest level and 10 ⫽highest level. Financial satisfaction, which generally signiﬁes contentment
with one’s objective and subjective ﬁnancial situation (Joo & Grable, 2004), was measured by
asking respondents “How satisﬁed are you with your overall ﬁnancial situation?” on a scale of 1 to
10, where 1 ⫽very dissatisﬁed and 10 ⫽very satisﬁed.
Risk tolerance. Risk tolerance was assessed by one item from the Grable and Lytton (1999,
2003) risk-tolerance assessment. The item asked respondents “In general, how would your best
friend describe you as a risk taker?” where 1 ⫽a real risk avoider,2⫽cautious,3⫽willing to
take risks after completing adequate research, and 4 ⫽a real gambler. While one-item measures
do not offer a comprehensive view of risk tolerance, for the purposes of limiting the length of
surveys to encourage more respondents, it is common to use just one risk-tolerance question in
consumer-ﬁnance research (Grable, 2008).
Life satisfaction. The Satisfaction With Life Scale (Diener, Emmons, Larsen, & Grifﬁn, 1985)
was used to measure life satisfaction. Respondents were asked to indicate how strongly they agreed
or disagreed with ﬁve statements on a scale of 1 to 7, where 1 ⫽strongly disagree and 7 ⫽strongly
134 KLONTZ, SULLIVAN, SEAY, AND CANALE
agree. Scores range from 5 to 35 with higher scores indicating greater life satisfaction. The
Satisfaction With Life Scale has been shown to have strong internal consistency, with Cronbach’s
␣ranging from .79 to .89 (Pavot & Diener, 1993). Cronbach’s ␣for the Satisfaction With Life Scale
in the current study was observed to be .89.
Cognitive biases/investing problems. Three common cognitive biases associated with invest-
ment management were measured: (a) overconﬁdence (“I am an above average investor”), (b) loss
aversion (“When an investment loses money I usually hold onto it so I don’t have to realize the
loss”), and (c) investment mistakes (“I have made one or more major investment mistakes”).
Respondents were asked to indicate the extent to which they agreed or disagreed with these
statements using a 6-point Likert-type scale, where 1 ⫽strongly disagree,2⫽disagree,3⫽
disagree a little,4⫽agree a little,5⫽agree, and 6 ⫽strongly agree.
Tax aversion. One question related to taxes was created for this study and used in the analysis
to assess respondents’ aversion to paying taxes: “I am against the whole idea of paying taxes.”
Respondents were asked to indicate the extent to which they agreed or disagreed with the statement
using a 6-point Likert-type scale, where 1 ⫽strongly disagree,2⫽disagree,3⫽disagree a little,
4⫽agree a little,5⫽agree, and 6 ⫽strongly agree.
Wealth motivation. To investigate the wealth motivations of respondents, two questions were
developed for this study and included to measure the extent to which they agree or disagree with the
following statements: (a) Much of my ﬁnancial success has come about because of a commitment
to follow my passions and (b) Much of my ﬁnancial success has come about because of a
fundamental drive to increase my wealth. Responses were collected on a scale of 1 to 6, where 1⫽
strongly disagree,2⫽disagree,3⫽disagree a little,4⫽agree a little,5⫽agree, and 6⫽
Financial and social behaviors.
Financial behaviors. Three scales of the Klontz Money Behavior Inventory (Klontz & Britt,
2012;Klontz, Britt, Archuleta, & Klontz, 2012) were used to assess money behaviors of interest in
higher net worth populations. Speciﬁcally, the subscales of Financial Dependence, Financial
Enabling, and Workaholism. These scales have been shown to have good internal consistency, with
Cronbach’s ␣as follows: Financial Dependence ⫽.79, Financial Enabling ⫽.87, and Workahol-
ism ⫽.87 (Klontz, Britt, Archuleta, & Klontz, 2012). Internal consistency for these scales in the
current study were as follows: Financial Dependence (␣⫽.64), Financial Enabling (␣⫽.77), and
Workaholism (␣⫽.82). Financial dependence includes a fear of being cut-off from nonwork
income, resentment about money received, and a stiﬂing of passion, creativity, motivation, or drive
to succeed. Financial enablers have trouble refusing ﬁnancial requests from friends and family
members and feel taken advantage of ﬁnancially. Although workaholics tend to have higher income,
they feel an irresistible urge to work and have trouble enjoying time away from work.
Dollar cost of expenditures. On an actual dollar basis, respondents were asked, How much did
you pay for your most recent (a) home (primary residence), (b) car, (c) vacation, and (d) watch?
Household and family-service providers. Respondents were asked to indicate whether or not
(yes or no) they used the services of various professionals for their household within the past 12
months: Have you worked with any of the following household/family service providers in the past
12 months? These included (a) an accountant, (b) an attorney, (c) a ﬁnancial advisor, (d) personal
chef, (e) live-in nanny, (f) physical/athletic trainer, (g) business or life coach, (h) landscaper/
gardener, (i) driver (personal or corporate), and (j) private tutor.
Interaction with neighbors. To examine the stereotype of the reclusive wealthy, respondents
were asked to respond to the question, “How often do you interact with your neighbors?”ona
5-point scale, where 1 ⫽never,2⫽rarely,3⫽sometimes,4⫽often, and 5 ⫽frequently.
We used a conservative approach to data analysis beginning with multivariate tests of main effects.
If signiﬁcant effects were found, we progressed to a series of independent samples ttests. With
regard to categorical questions, a series of
tests were conducted. We adopted a .05 level of
135WEALTHY: A FINANCIAL PSYCHOLOGICAL PROFILE
signiﬁcance for all tests. Cohen’s deffect sizes were calculated for the independent ttests variables,
using the pooled SD (Cohen, 1988).
The Psychology of Wealth
A multivariate analysis of variance (MANOVA) was conducted to compare the wealthy and the
mass afﬂuent on 17 psychological variables. A signiﬁcant main effect for the model was found:
Wilk’s ⫽.923, F(17, 619) ⫽3.02, p⬍.0001. This test provides evidence in support of research
Hypothesis 1 (There are signiﬁcant differences in the psychological characteristics of wealthy
individuals as compared with the mass afﬂuent) and Hypothesis 2 (There are signiﬁcant differences
in the ﬁnancial behaviors of wealthy individuals as compared with the mass afﬂuent). With this
initial support, a series of ttests was then run to explore the differences in the psychological
characteristics of wealthy individuals and individuals classiﬁed as mass afﬂuent. The effect sizes (d)
for the psychological variables were in the small to medium range. The ttests and Cohen’s dresults
can be found in Table 2. When compared with the mass afﬂuent, the wealthy reported statistically
signiﬁcant differences in several areas.
Money scripts. The wealthy are less likely to endorse money avoidance beliefs. As such, they
are less likely to believe that money is a corrupting inﬂuence, that rich people are greedy or get rich
by taking advantage of others, that there is virtue in living with less money, or that they do not
deserve money. As a result, the wealthy are less likely to sabotage their ﬁnancial success, less likely
to overspend or gamble compulsively, less likely to ﬁnancially enable others, less likely to hoard
possessions, and less likely to have trouble sticking to a budget. A signiﬁcant difference was also
observed on the Money Status subscale, with the wealthy scoring signiﬁcantly higher. As such, they
were more likely to believe that self-worth and net worth are intertwined, that success is deﬁned by
how much money one earns, that money follows good works, and money helps give life meaning.
Psychological Variables: Means Using t Tests for Equality of Means
Mass afﬂuent Wealthy
ttest Cohen’s dMean SD Mean SD
Childhood SES 1,000 5.86 1.83 5.69 1.88 1.16 0.09
$ Avoidance 826 22.44 6.21 21.19 5.29 2.27*** 0.22
$ Worship 832 20.97 5.47 21.63 5.28 ⫺1.32 0.12
$ Status 815 12.61 3.81 13.25 3.86 ⫺1.79* 0.17
$ Vigilance 823 32.26 4.43 33.92 4.87 ⫺1.54 0.36
LOC 821 12.90 4.15 12.09 3.74 2.18** 0.21
$ Satisfaction 999 6.51 2.32 7.29 2.33 4.07*** 0.34
$ Stress 999 4.40 2.13 3.83 2.18 3.23*** 0.26
$ Knowledge 1,001 6.98 1.85 7.86 1.75 ⫺5.77** 0.49
Risk tolerance 1,010 2.50 .63 2.42 .58 1.57 0.13
Life satisfaction 899 27.65 6.26 29.30 5.62 3.10*** 0.28
Loss aversion 828 3.44 1.23 3.11 1.10 3.06*** 0.28
Invest mistakes 839 4.23 1.34 4.55 1.23 2.73*** 0.25
Overconﬁdence 835 3.26 1.32 4.01 1.12 7.22*** 0.61
Against taxes 837 2.18 1.04 2.23 1.01 ⫺0.55 0.05
Passion success 822 3.46 1.41 3.75 1.45 ⫺2.23** 0.29
Wealth success 830 3.59 1.38 3.92 1.48 2.60*** 0.23
Note. LOC ⫽locus of control; SES ⫽socioeconomic status.
*p⬍.10. ** p⬍.05. *** p⬍.01.
136 KLONTZ, SULLIVAN, SEAY, AND CANALE
An interesting ﬁnd was that prior research has linked money-status scripts to lower SES in
childhood, lower income (Klontz et al., 2011), and greater risk for a host of money disorders,
including pathological gambling, compulsive hoarding, ﬁnancial enabling, and workaholism (Klontz
& Britt, 2012). The wealthy also reported signiﬁcantly higher levels of money vigilance scripts. As
such, they scored higher on the belief that money should be saved and not spent, are more likely to
be anxious about not having enough money, and believe it is impolite to talk about money.
Locus of control. The wealthy report signiﬁcantly higher levels of internal locus of control. As
such, they are less likely to feel helpless in dealing with life’s challenges, take more responsibility
for the outcomes in their lives, have stronger beliefs in their abilities to solve problems and achieve
goals, and believe they have more control over the things that happen to them.
Financial knowledge, ﬁnancial satisfaction, and ﬁnancial stress. When compared with the
mass afﬂuent, the wealthy reported signiﬁcantly higher levels of ﬁnancial knowledge and ﬁnancial
satisfaction and signiﬁcantly less ﬁnancial stress.
Risk tolerance. There were no signiﬁcant differences between the self-reported risk tolerance
of the wealthy and the mass afﬂuent in the sample. On average, both groups indicated that in terms
of risk-taking, their friends would describe them as cautious.
Life satisfaction. The wealthy reported signiﬁcantly higher levels of life satisfaction. This
includes believing that the conditions of one’s life are excellent, and that one’s life is close to ideal
in most ways; they have less regret and believe that they have gotten the important things they want
Cognitive biases/investing problems. Rather than being immune to common investor mis-
takes, the wealthy endorsed a cognitive bias that has been associated with investing mistakes.
Speciﬁcally, they reported signiﬁcantly higher levels of conﬁdence in their investing acumen.
Furthermore, they were signiﬁcantly more likely to report making one or more major investing
mistakes. However, when compared with the mass afﬂuent, the wealthy reportedly being signiﬁ-
cantly less likely to report holding onto losing positions to avoid experiencing a loss.
Tax aversion. There were no signiﬁcant differences with regard to aversion to paying taxes
between the wealthy and the mass-afﬂuent individuals in the study. On average, both groups
indicated that they disagree with the statement, “I am against the whole idea of paying taxes.”
Wealth motivation. The wealthy individuals were signiﬁcantly more likely than the mass
afﬂuent to report attributing their ﬁnancial success to both a fundamental drive to increase their
wealth and a commitment to follow their passions.
Financial and Social Behaviors
Financial habits of the wealthy were also explored in this study to see what differences, if any, exist
between wealthy individuals and mass-afﬂuent individuals. A MANOVA was conducted to compare
the wealthy and the mass afﬂuent on eight ﬁnancial and social-behavior variables. This test provides
evidence in support of research Hypothesis 2 (There are signiﬁcant differences in the ﬁnancial
behaviors of wealthy individuals as compared with the mass afﬂuent). A signiﬁcant main effect for
the model was found: Wilk’s ⫽.820, F(8, 647) ⫽17.70, p⬍.0001. A series of ttests was then
run to explore differences in the ﬁnancial behaviors of wealthy individuals and individuals classiﬁed
as mass afﬂuent. The ttests and Cohen’s dresults can be found in Table 3. Chi-square test results
for the categorical variables can be found in Table 4. Medium to large effects were observed in the
spending habits of the wealthy as compared with the mass afﬂuent. When compared with the mass
afﬂuent, the wealthy reported statistically signiﬁcant differences in several areas.
Money disorders. Despite the trust-fund-baby stereotype, the wealthy in this sample were not
signiﬁcantly more likely to be ﬁnancially dependent on nonwork income than mass-afﬂuent
individuals. Nor were signiﬁcant differences in ﬁnancial-enabling behaviors or workaholism ob-
served between the wealthy and the mass afﬂuent.
Dollar cost of recent expenditures. As might be expected, the wealthy reported spending
signiﬁcantly more money on their latest purchases than the mass afﬂuent. Speciﬁcally, they spent
106% more on the most recent home ($542,000 vs. $263,000), 48% more on the most recent car
137WEALTHY: A FINANCIAL PSYCHOLOGICAL PROFILE
purchase ($40,000 vs. $27,000), 98% more on the last vacation ($8,300 vs. $4,200), and 150% more
on the last watch ($1,090 vs. $440).
Household and family-service providers. Signiﬁcant differences were also observed in the
number of household and family-service providers employed in the past 12 months by the wealthy
and mass-afﬂuent individuals in the sample. While there was not enough power to analyze hiring
around nannies or personal chefs, the wealthy were signiﬁcantly more likely to employ the services
of an accountant, an attorney, a ﬁnancial advisor, a landscaper, a physical trainer, a business or life
coach, and a landscaper/gardener. While much less common, the wealthy were also signiﬁcantly
more likely to employ the services of a personal or corporate driver (13% vs. 4%). There were no
signiﬁcant differences between the wealthy and the mass afﬂuent in their employment of educational
Interaction with neighbors. No signiﬁcant difference was found between the wealthy and the
mass afﬂuent in terms of the degree to which they interacted with their neighbors. On average, both
groups indicated that they rarely interact with their neighbors.
This study sought to examine the wealthy across a range of personality, behavior, and sociodemo-
graphic variables. Based on the theories of money ambivalence and cognitive dissonance, the
Financial and Social Behaviors:
Variable nMass afﬂuent % Wealthy %
Accountant 862 62.78 86.71 33.49***
Attorney 823 50.82 69.33 16.94***
Financial advisor 884 85.01 90.45 3.16*
Personal chef 737 1.63 6.40 N/A
Nanny 741 3.41 6.35 N/A
Physical trainer 764 24.01 38.93 12.38***
Life coach 752 15.81 23.81 4.71**
Landscaper 810 43.05 70.95 37.70***
Driver 739 3.92 12.70 15.75***
Tutor 745 5.19 7.03 0.69
*p⬍.10. ** p⬍.05. *** p⬍.01.
Financial and Social Behaviors: t Tests for Equality of Means
Mass afﬂuent Wealthy
ttest Cohen’s dMean SD Mean SD
$ Enable 817 15.06 4.78 15.56 5.25 ⫺1.13 0.10
$ Dependence 809 9.45 2.97 9.67 3.53 ⫺0.78 0.07
Workaholism 789 25.63 8.19 26.26 8.78 ⫺0.82 0.16
$ Home 695 252,309 218,076 534,918 442,249 ⫺7.72*** 0.86
$ Car 706 26,347 16,685 39,293 19,209 ⫺7.75*** 0.72
$ Vacation 699 4,027 4,863 8,166 8,003 ⫺6.17*** 0.64
$ Watch 795 314 1,054 829 1,757 ⫺3.37*** 0.37
Talk to neighbors 906 2.46 1.08 2.47 1.06 ⫺0.16 0.01
*p⬍.10. ** p⬍.05. *** p⬍.01.
138 KLONTZ, SULLIVAN, SEAY, AND CANALE
psychology of envy, and relative deprivation, the argument was made that negative views of the
wealthy are pervasive and levels of resentment may be keeping pace with the growing wealth gap
in the United States. Whether deserved or not, research has supported the notion that negative beliefs
about money and wealthier individuals are associated with lower income, lower net worth, and a
host of ﬁnancially self-destructive behaviors (Klontz & Britt, 2012).
The purpose was to explore common stereotypes of the wealthy and examine the ﬁnancial
psychology of wealthy individuals compared with individuals who could be classiﬁed as mass
afﬂuent, with the goal of increasing our understanding of this group of individuals. Signiﬁcant
differences were found in the ﬁnancial psychology of the wealthy compared with other higher net
worth individuals. The largest psychological differences with medium effect sizes were observed in
the areas of overconﬁdence in investing acumen (d⫽0.61), ﬁnancial knowledge (d⫽0.49), and
ﬁnancial satisfaction (d⫽0.34).
In addition, the wealthy endorsed less money-avoidant beliefs, more money-status beliefs, a
more internal locus of control, less of a tendency for loss aversion, and were signiﬁcantly more
likely to attribute their ﬁnancial success to both a drive to increase their wealth and a commitment
to follow their passions.
With regard to ﬁnancial behaviors, the wealthy were more likely to report workaholic behaviors
and admit to making signiﬁcant investment mistakes. The wealthy were not more likely to be
ﬁnancially dependent, were no more likely to be averse to paying taxes, were not more reclusive,
and tended to be ﬁrst-generation earners who worked full-time and were products of public high
schools. The largest differences were seen in the amount of money the wealthy paid for their most
recent purchase compared with the mass afﬂuent. On average, the wealthy paid twice as much for
their homes and their most recent vacations and ⬃50% more for their most recent car purchases. The
wealthy in this sample had an income approximately twice as much as the mass afﬂuent, which
appears to correspond with their purchases. However, the wealthy had a median net worth 340%
higher than the mass afﬂuent, suggesting that income could be a better indicator of spending habits
than net worth.
Mental-health Professionals and Money
Mental-health professionals are not immune to negative beliefs about money and wealth. Of
particular interest to consulting psychologists is that mental-health professionals may be at even
higher risk of money-avoidant beliefs and poor ﬁnancial health. Speciﬁcally, one study found that
when compared with other professionals, mental-health professionals were less likely to pay off
credit cards each month, have a budget, have adequate insurance, have money set aside for
emergencies, have conﬁdence in their ﬁnancial knowledge, and report comfort with their ﬁnancial
status (Britt, Klontz, Tibbetts, & Leitz, 2014). When compared with ﬁnancial planners, mental-
health professionals were more likely to endorse money avoidance and antirich beliefs and to engage
in ﬁnancial-denial behaviors (e.g., avoiding looking at bank statements, trying to forget about one’s
ﬁnancial situation; Klontz & Britt, 2012). A mental-health professional who is experiencing
signiﬁcant ﬁnancial stress related to his or her own lack of ﬁnancial health could be less effective
in overall job performance.
It has been suggested that therapists’ own unresolved money issues have led to the topic of
money being avoided in the psychological literature, even though money is consistently the primary
source of stress in the lives of three out of four Americans (Klontz et al., 2008;Trachtman, 1999).
In addition to potential stress associated with one’s own ﬁnancial health, an avoidant or ambivalent
relationship with money can impact the work of a consulting psychologist in several ways. First, it
can have a negative impact on the consulting psychologist’s ability to maintain rapport and positive
regard with wealthier clients, including higher level executives, who may belong to a higher
socioeconomic class. This could lead to feelings of envy and/or relative deprivation that interfere
with the ability to establish rapport and the consulting process. A lack of familiarity with the norms,
backgrounds, and psychology of people from different socioeconomic classes can also have a
negative impact on the consulting process. Schein (2003) cautioned that failure to take adequate
sociological and cultural considerations of one’s client into account can have a negative impact on
139WEALTHY: A FINANCIAL PSYCHOLOGICAL PROFILE
the consulting-psychology relationship and can negatively impact outcomes. As such, it follows that
a better understanding of the ﬁnancial psychology of wealthier individuals can help the consulting
psychologist better serve his or her wealthier clients.
As mentioned above, negative beliefs about money and attitudes toward the wealthy have been
associated with poor ﬁnancial outcomes and self-destructive ﬁnancial behaviors (Klontz, & Britt,
2012). The present study adds supports for the association between money beliefs and income and
net worth. It follows that psychological intervention targeting self-limiting ﬁnancial beliefs and
self-destructive ﬁnancial behaviors could be useful in helping clients challenge and change their
problematic money beliefs and improve their ﬁnancial trajectory. Several psychotherapeutic ap-
proaches have been adapted to address the psychological components of clients’ ﬁnancial health in
an effort to improve their ﬁnancial status and psychological well-being, including cognitive–
behavioral therapy, solution-focused therapy, systemic therapy, humanistic therapy, psychodynamic
therapy, and motivational interviewing (Klontz, Britt, & Archuleta, 2015).
Limitations and Future Directions
There are important limitations to this study. While the respondents were drawn directly from clients
of ﬁnancial planners, they were a convenience sample, and as such, they were not selected at
random. The study relied exclusively on self-report data and there was no direct observation of
behaviors or objective measures of ﬁnancial status. Furthermore, the results are strictly descriptive
and cannot be used to establish cause-and-effect relationships between personality variables and
SES. These ﬁndings would beneﬁt from further scrutiny and cross-validation from a randomly
selected multicultural sample, both within the United States and abroad. Additionally, a larger and
more diverse sample would allow for examining whether differences in ﬁnancial psychology exist
across various demographic groups, including comparing money beliefs across various generations
(e.g., Millennials vs. Baby Boomers).
While there are limits to this study, it is offered as a glance into the psychological characteristics
and ﬁnancial behaviors of this group of individuals who are not well understood but frequently
served by consulting psychologists. Future research could explore the nature of these personality
characteristics to see if they predict future inclusion in higher socioeconomic groups. If certain
personality traits are predictive, it could provide support for cognitive– behavioral interventions
targeting beliefs, attitudes, and behaviors that are keeping a person from reaching his or her goals.
When limiting ﬁnancial beliefs are identiﬁed, they can be changed (Klontz & Britt, 2012). There is
also evidence to support the notion that psychological traits can change over time (Borghans et al.,
2008) and can be altered by therapeutic interventions (De Fruyt, Van Leeuwen, Bagby, Rolland, &
Rouillon, 2006). A deeper understanding of the wealthy can help consulting psychologists better
serve this population and help individuals aspiring to increase their income and net worth by
challenging inaccurate beliefs about this population’s psychology and ﬁnancial behaviors.
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Received August 2, 2014
Latest revision received December 17, 2014
Accepted December 23, 2014 䡲
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