Are Wealthy People Lonelier? Or Happier?

Ray Williams
5 min readMar 21, 2024

Exploring the relationship between wealth and contentment often leads to wondering if wealth can secure happiness, notably the well-researched and impactful element of social connections. However, answers are more complex when examining the specific relationship between monetary wealth and social ties. Recent studies present contradictory findings: one implies that wealthier individuals engage less in social interactions, while another posits they experience reduced feelings of loneliness. The fundamental dynamics at play here prompt further inquiry.

In an investigation led by scholars from Emory University and the University of Minnesota, nearly 120,000 American survey responses were analyzed, focusing on annual household income and social habits. Findings indicated that individuals with higher earnings generally spent less time in social settings and more time by themselves. Intriguingly, when these wealthier individuals did socialize, they favored spending time with friends over family members.

This could suggest that those with ample financial resources, less dependent on kin for material or logistical aid, allocate their social time towards more selective, possibly strategic, relationships. It raises the question of whether affluent individuals prefer casual meetings or professional networking to familial duties. While this study does not conclude the comparative impact of friend versus family interactions on overall happiness, it is commonly believed that investing in social connections, whether with kin or acquaintances, fosters more profound, more genuine relationships, decreases the likelihood of feeling lonely, and enhances happiness.

Another study delved into loneliness — a state seen as the opposite of feeling loved and belonging — which is linked to decreased happiness. Loneliness was defined as “a perceived discrepancy between desired and actual social relationships; a perceived lack of control over the quantity and especially the quality of one’s social activity.”

An analysis of survey data from around 16,000 German adults revealed a fluctuating pattern of loneliness across the lifespan, with peaks at approximately 35 and 60 years of age, and an increase thereafter. Variables like social interaction frequency, marital status, or friend count did not account for this loneliness trend — 65-year-olds felt lonelier than those aged 45, regardless of their social circle’s size. However, income was a consistent inverse predictor of loneliness, indicating that higher income was associated with lower self-reported loneliness, irrespective of other factors.

It may be tempting to conclude from this research that increasing one’s income endlessly reduces loneliness. Yet, the nature of many mental states is more complex, often resembling a U-shape with adverse effects at both extremely low and high ends, and an optimal range in between. This raises questions about whether individuals with significantly high incomes may isolate themselves from meaningful interactions across various social spectrums. Is there an income sweet spot that maximizes well-being by reducing stress and encouraging social engagement? Further studies are needed to explore if there’s a specific earnings threshold after which the desire to socialize diminishes. Collectively, these investigations interestingly imply that while wealthier individuals may engage less in social activities, they report feeling less lonely.

The mental and emotional landscape often presents a U-shaped curve, indicating that both extremely low and high conditions can lead to similar, generally unfavorable outcomes, with a sweet spot lying in between. This concept also applies to income levels: individuals at the lower end may need more resources to foster strong social ties, whereas those at the higher end might isolate themselves from meaningful engagements with family, friends, and even strangers. The question then arises, is there an ideal income range that enhances well-being by reducing stress and promoting social connections? And is there a point at which additional income starts to affect one’s desire to engage socially negatively? These critical inquiries necessitate further exploration in future research. The paradox observed from these studies indicates that while individuals with higher incomes tend to engage less in social activities, they report feeling less isolated.

In attempting to understand this paradox, it’s helpful to examine studies on wealth and influence, which reveal that increased privilege, whether earned or experimentally assigned, correlates with a more self-centered and socially detached behavior. By defining loneliness in terms of “control” and the “desired quality and quantity” of relationships, and considering the powerful’s propensity to dominate and undervalue others, it’s plausible that the affluent report lower levels of loneliness. This reduction in self-reported loneliness may not necessarily reflect a robust or plentiful social network but rather a diminished interest in establishing connections: the sentiment not being loneliness but a lack of desire to connect with others.

The debate around money and happiness has been ongoing, with Richard Easterlin pointing out in 1974 that, despite rising per-capita GDP, happiness levels in nations plateaued in the mid-1960s. Over the past four decades, data analyses have shown conflicting results regarding the relationship between income and happiness, with some studies affirming and others denying this correlation. Notably, Daniel Kahneman, a Nobel Prize laureate, found that income does correlate with happiness but only up to an annual threshold of $75,000.

The consensus is that money is undoubtedly beneficial under dire circumstances, such as concerns about basic needs like food, warmth, or shelter. The exploration of the money-happiness nexus often relies on individuals’ self-reported happiness levels on surveys and seeks to identify predictors of happiness. A deeper understanding of happiness, as defined by happiness expert Sonja Lyubomirsky as “the experience of joy, contentment, or positive well-being, combined with a sense that one’s life is good, meaningful, and worthwhile,” allows researchers to investigate the factors, particularly social connections, that influence happiness. This approach facilitates an examination of how income intersects with these happiness-influencing factors.

While traditional wisdom and popular media offer differing views on whether money can buy happiness, suggesting that love is all one needs or advocating for wealth accumulation, research highlights the importance of strong social bonds in achieving high happiness levels. The intriguing observation from the aforementioned studies — that wealthier individuals spend less time on social interactions yet feel less lonely — calls for further scientific examination into the complex relationships between wealth, social connectivity, and happiness.



Ray Williams

Author/ Executive Coach-Helping People Live Better Lives and Serve Others