Chen, M Keith (2013) "The Effect of Language on Economic Behavior: Evidence from Savings Rates, Health Behaviors, and Retirement Assets." American Economic Review, 103(2): 690-731. (unloccked version on Keith's page)
Languages differ widely in the ways they partition time. In this paper I test the hypothesis that languages that do not grammatically distinguish between present and future events (what linguists call weak-FTR languages) lead their speakers to take more future-oriented actions. First, I show how this prediction arises naturally when well-documented effects of language on cognition are merged with models of decision making over time. Then, I show that consistent with this hypothesis, speakers of weak-FTR languages save more, hold more retirement wealth, smoke less, are less likely to be obese, and enjoy better long-run health. This is true in every major region of the world and holds even when comparing only demographically similar individuals born and living in the same country. The evidence does not support the most obvious forms of common causation. I discuss implications of these findings for theories of intertemporal choice.
You may watch Chen presenting his study at a TED event here.