Power of Mindfulness over bad financial decision making

If you’ve ever persisted with a dead-end job or loveless relationship or a university degree you regret starting in the hope it will somehow improve, or ‘chased your losses’ by doubling down, you might want to pay attention.

Maybe you’ve endured reading a novel you hated from the first 3 chapters or stayed through a movie just because you bought tickets – despite the fact you would rather be anywhere else.

Have you ever done something similar with money? Plunged money into a stock, a small business or tried your hand at Foreign Currency trading, something you didn’t understand? Hung onto that car for too long when it’s cost you a fortune already?

All these actions, and anything else where we ‘throw good money after bad’, are examples of a famous economic principle called the ‘sunk-cost fallacy’ which can be applied to life in general. It’s the tendency to continue with an irrational and often risky course of action not based on the likely outcome, but because we don’t want to ‘waste’ what are unrecoverable costs and time – aka the ‘sunk-costs’.

It’s a very human response to the loss to try even harder to win, sometimes to avoid feelings of guilt or inadequacy, or even just fear of ‘looking bad’.
But at worst ego, politics and emotional decision-making can cause people to double or triple their financial losses, causing huge financial and emotional stress for individuals and their families.

In the cold light of day, it’s not rational, but who hasn’t done something like this? More importantly, how do we stop this apparent madness?
Researchers Andrew Hafenbrack, Zoe Kinias, and Sigal Barsade published their work, ‘Debiasing the Mind Through Meditation’, Mindfulness and the Sunk-Cost Bias in the Journal of Psychological Science in 2013.

In the research, the results suggest that increased mindfulness reduces the tendency to allow unrecoverable prior costs to influence current decisions.
“Meditation reduced how much people focused on the past and future, and this psychological shift led to less negative emotion,” Kinias wrote in the journal. “The reduced negative emotion [then] facilitated their ability to let go of sunk costs.” Mindfulness does have some power over bad financial decision making!

In another study, from Elsevier’s journal Personality and Individual Differences in 2007, found “mindfulness is associated with less severe gambling outcomes”.

Chad Lakey, Keith Campbell, Adam Goodie (University of Georgia) and Kirk Warren Brown (Virginia Commonwealth University) concluded their findings.  They wrote, “are hopeful in suggesting that the greater attention to and awareness of ongoing internal and external stimuli that characterizes mindfulness may represent an effective means of mitigating the impulsive and addictive responses and intemperate risk-attitudes of individuals with problem gambling.”

They concluded: “In this light, mindfulness may help to lessen the grip of automatic thoughts, affective reactions, and behaviour patterns.”
Research into the specific benefits of mindfulness is ongoing but it seems clear that a regular mindfulness practice can have powerful positive effects on dysfunctional decision-making around money.

Andrew Fleming
13th April 2018

Financial stress behind mental health insurance claim spikes

New research reveals that financial stress is a hidden mental health trigger for Australians to submit insurance claims, part of a trend alarming the life insurance industry. The financial stress burden faced by Australians is, according to analysis by Rice Warner, a major factor in the escalating numbers of mental health-related claims that insurers are wrestling with.

In a report commissioned by an Australian start-up, Financial Mindfulness, to examine the viability of a program to reduce personal financial stress, it was estimated that well over half of mental health-related insurance claims are due to financial stress.

“It is not unreasonable to assume that 60 % of mental health claims have financial stress as a primary or secondary contributor,” Rice Warner consultant Heather Brown wrote.

Other research also commissioned by Financial Mindfulness in July 2017 found that Australians under financial stress suffered severe impacts on their mental and physical health and relationships. While musculoskeletal conditions are the biggest category of claims for both IP and TPD claims, it is widely acknowledged that mental health is the fastest growing cause of insurance claims. Many agree because decades of stigma is lifting. Rice Warner’s Group Insurance Claims Experience Study, a huge research project into 140,000 claims across 16 superannuation funds from 2011 to 2014, revealed another stunning finding, about the leading causes of IP claims in particular.

Mental health issues were the leading cause of IP claims during most Australian prime child rearing and career-building years (25 to 45 years). IP insurance premiums are worth an estimated $4.1 billion in annual premiums.The types of insurance most affected by mental health claims are Total and Permanent Disability and Income Protection. 20% of all IP claims are due to mental health issues or suicide, while the figure was 15% for TPD.

According to Financial Mindfulness Founder and CEO, Andrew Fleming: “The trend of mental health insurance claims lead us to believe that this is the number one issue facing the life insurance industry. What is the major reason behind mental health claims? Financial stress.

“Financial stress is having a major impact on Australians mental health. Recently we announced our results from a detailed survey on Financial stress which highlighted the severity of the problem.” More than one in three Australian’s surveyed (38%) worried about money “all the time”.

Those who identified as being financially stressed, said anxiety (66%), depression (64%) and social isolation (55%) were the consequences of financial stress.

Peter Vincent
13th November 2017

Personal financial stress devastating Australian lives


Close to 1 in 3 Australians suffer from significant financial stress, which has for the first time been comprehensively examined in new research by CoreData.
The results show financial stress leads to anti-social behaviour, relationship conflict and breakdown, isolation, sleep loss and symptoms of depression.
Most of us are aware of financial stress; the phrase appears daily in media coverage of money issues. But how money worries diminish Australians’ quality of life hasn’t been fully understood – until now.

But how money worries diminish Australians’ quality of life hasn’t been fully understood – until now. Australian start-up Financial Mindfulness commissioned global research firm CoreData in July 2017 to question 1000 Australians about what financial stress does to their relationships and their physical and physical and mental health.

CoreData dug deeper into the issue than anyone ever has in Australia, creating the first ever personal Financial Stress Index, based on responses to 17 questions.The results show nearly one in three people (30.4%) are suffering from significant financial stress and they are struggling compared to those who are not financially-stressed. Women were more likely to be more financially-stressed than men (33.4% v 27.6%).

Dr Nicola Gates, chief scientific advisor for Financial Mindfulness, said significant financial stress was “a lot more common than I had believed”.
“Worse 80% of them report severe discomfort – psychological and physical discomfort as a result,” Dr Gates said. “Financial stress is an issue that needs to be talked about in order to reduce stigma and shame, and to bring about intervention.” 35 cent of respondents suffering financial stress admitted using drugs or alcohol to manage negative feelings associated with personal finances during the past month. That level of abuse was a remarkable 18 times higher than people not under financial stress.

More than 66 per cent of those suffering financial stress said money worries directly led to feelings of fear, anxiety and/or depression – three times higher than people unaffected by financial stress. “Financial stress, like other stress, is a significant threat to our mental health and can lead to mental illness,” Dr Gates said. “For example, financial stress can cause a person to feel shame and develop a sense of failure which may lead them to become depressed.”
One of the most surprising findings was that financial stress is felt broadly, and not only experienced in low-income households. Respondents on salaries of up to $150,000 a year with investments of up to $750,000 were only marginally less financially-stressed than those who earned up to $90,000 with investments of up to $350,000.The findings also showed that financially-stressed Australians reported:

  • Their physical health was affected nearly six times as much as those not financially stressed (60.8% v 10.5%).
  • Arguing about money with family/partner nearly four times as much (75.8% v 21.4%).
  • Feeling at least considerably irritable / having angry outbursts over their money twenty times more (52.2% v 2.6%).
  • Having problems sleeping at eight times the rate of those not financially stressed (71.3% v 8.7%).
  • More than a third (35.2%) used alcohol or drugs to deal with financial stress.
  • 52.4% have trouble concentrating (vs. 3.3%), 16 times higher.
  • 37.8% have been hurtful towards themselves or others, 17 times higher.
  • Nearly nine out of 10 (88.0%) avoid social functions reasonably often, four times higher.
  • Worrying about money “most of the time”, at six times the rate of those not stressed (71.0% v 11.7%)

The results of this press release appeared in the Sydney Morning Herald and the Financial Standard.

Peter Vincent
13th November 2017

Financial stress: 9 out of 10 suffering

We asked you, our Financial Mindfulness Facebook family – across Australia, the United States and the United Kingdom – to take part in a survey about financial stress in your life. The results are in.

Financial stress, which comes with a strong set of beliefs, is a huge factor in your lives. Monthly bills – such as credit cards and other regular payments – disorganisation, income and unexpected expenses are the major causes of your financial stress.

Constantly stressed about money

One of the most striking findings of our July 2017 survey was that an extraordinary 94 per cent of respondents experienced financial stress – defined as “feeling discomfort and/or worry about making financial decisions” – at least “fairly often”.

A surprising 35 per cent experienced this kind of financial stress “all the time”, while just over a quarter were affected “very often”.
We also asked you a series of questions that haven’t been widely posed to the public before about financial stress. Your answers showed the seriousness of people’s struggles around money.

Why does financial stress hurt our concentration?

Because other studies have showed that financial stress can cause issues with concentration in our daily lives, we asked exactly what about your financial worries affects your concentration. “I can’t stop thinking about debt and [my] financial struggle,” was a typical response we received to one of the questions we posed. “Thinking several things at once and always having the uncertainties and insecurities present in [my] mind. Focus is clouded with fear,” said another woman. Similarly, this: “I cannot concentrate since money is always on my mind. Worrying about how to pay all the bills and keep the kids fed make it difficult to focus.”

Another wrote of the damage that a lack of knowledge was having for her and her partner: “Just being disorganized, my boyfriend and I have no control over our finances and we do not know where to start. We are trying to [get help] but we’re still not dedicated to [the] advice.”

Why do we deliberately avoid thinking about the problem?

We know financial stress comes with self-defeating beliefs. Our survey showed the fears behind these beliefs.

“If I think about it too much I panic,” was a typical response, while another admitted suffering from “head in the sand syndrome”. Responses to this question revealed some real emotional distress when dealing with money: actually facing their financial problems was “too overwhelming”, “exhausting”, “too embarrassing”, “too stressful”, “I want it to go away”, “seems impossible, “it scares me and hurts”.

That makes a response like the following totally understandable: “I run away from things I don’t know how to handle.” This response seemed a bit more worrying: “It’s good to avoid thinking about it because the more you think about it, you give the problem more energy.”

From so much worry, it’s a short step to this: “It makes me depressed and not want to do anything or see any people.”

We asked about mindfulness too: what do people think it is? Interesting the least popular choice was “meditation”. The most popular was “being more aware”, followed by “making conscious decisions more often.”

How would a life without financial stress look?

We also asked exactly how people would even know if their financial had reduced, a reasonable question given the pervasiveness and complexity of the problem.

Easily the most popular option was “I would not worry about money as often”, which got more than twice the votes that “I would feel calmer making financial decisions” then “I would pay bills and meet my repayments without a problem”.

Way down the list was “I would have more money”, suggesting absence of financial stress is not about wealth.

You want to try to solve financial stress with mindfulness

Happily for us, a huge majority of respondents would try our program – which is a personalised financial stress reduction program, delivered by an app. An overwhelming 86 per cent said they would trial a free app or web-based platform that combined financial education, mindfulness sessions and goal-setting in an attempt to reduce their financial stress.

Mythbusting our beliefs about financial stress

Consider your own financial stress: what do you feel when your card has been used fraudulently? Or your bank account hacked? Anger? Fear maybe?

What about when you get a Christmas bonus? Relief? Joy? Do you jump to expressing your love for someone by spending that money? How about when you go to the ATM a few days before you get paid? Or at the supermarket check-out? Fear that you might not have enough left to pay?

Financial stress isn’t just about being in hardship, even though that’s what the phrase brings to mind. It’s often about struggling with financial decisions and commitments, and not being able to get past the feelings which that struggle – or any struggle related to money – brings up.

Not many subjects are as emotional as money is. And if we are prone to reacting to strong emotions, then there’s a good chance that any negative underlying beliefs we have will affect our relationship with money – spending, earning, saving, even thinking about it.

In part one of this series we looked at three beliefs society holds about financial stress – that it’s everywhere, that it’s not a big deal and that it’s about hardship. Today we look at three more personal beliefs about financial stress.

Belief 4 – I’m no good with money / I can’t seem to handle money

If we heard a friend say this we’d probably rap them over the knuckles and point out how negative it sounds. But how many of us believe this deep down?
Is it any wonder people who carry this emotional boulder around never seem to get anywhere financially?

Human beings seem to have fairly set beliefs about money, beliefs that can be hard to shift. More than likely they come from our upbringing.

ANZ’s 2015 Survey of Adult Financial Literacy in Australia identified four main attitudes about money, two broadly positive and two less so. They were “impulsivity” and that “dealing with money is stressful” (even when things are going well).

Moving from a spending lifestyle to a saving one requires a desire to learn, practice self-discipline, goal-setting, persistence, restraint and organisation. Sometimes it takes a shift in mindset that feels next to impossible. At its most basic level, money is about keeping our numbers in the positive. It’s objectively achievable; many people successfully move from a lifestyle of spending and excess to saving and modesty, usually as we mature. An industry worth billions has grown out of our desire to do better with money. But arguably that industry can be as concerned with collecting fees as empowering change in people who have blocked thinking about money.


Belief 5 – Financial stress will go away if I have more money

A windfall or payrise is the holy grail for the chronically financially-stressed, but unless you are debt-free – or are one in a million and suddenly get rich – it’s unlikely to work for long. Chances are the reasons you are chronically stressed about money are more complex than how much you earn (or the state of the housing or job market). It may seem the outside world is causing your financial stress, but it’s also possible at least some of your financial stress comes from inside you.If you can be prone to impulse spending, wanting to buy the latest expensive gadget, or even have a tendency to shower people in your life with gifts, it’s likely you will spend much of that extra money.

Or if you committed yourself to spending 40 per cent (or more) of your salary on your mortgage or rent and a pay rise gets your head above the waterline, might that extra income justify the risky decision you made to over-commit?
If a windfall was really the cure to financial stress, then the ultimate solution would be a lottery win, right? Wrong. A shocking 70 per cent of lottery winners end up bankrupt, according to America’s National Endowment for Financial Education.

The truth is that the cost of living, especially in a capital city, combined with servicing debt caused by a lifestyle beyond what you really need creates financial stress. Full stop.

When it comes to dealing with or preventing financial distress, it is not just about how much money you can acquire. That may be missing the point.
So time to be honest: how much true freedom do you really have around your spending?

What may be causing you as much distress as the dollar figures keeping you up at night and distracting you at work, is the stress itself. In other words, ruminating on the problem of ‘how do I get better with money’ is probably a painful process.

Perhaps it’s time to go back a step and examine your whole relationship with money?


Belief 6 – You can only help someone under financial stress by giving them money and/or financial education

There’s no doubt the answer to financial stress – which at least superficially, presents as having trouble meeting financial obligations – has a few elements.
Some of those include effectively setting goals that promote change, learning more about how to manage money – because, as acknowledged by the Federal government, “financial ignorance can carry an invisible lifetime cost”.
ANZ’s national survey of adult financial literacy showed many Australians have strong levels of understanding, but there was still a large number of people who didn’t save on a regular basis (23%), and did not feel in control of their finances (22%).

“Those most likely to feel out of control were … household incomes of A$65,000 or less with children at home and people with a mortgage of A$300,000 or more and a household income of less than A$100,000,” the report found.

The wonderfully-named American scientist mentioned above, J Galen Buckwalter, who identified the disorder of “acute financial stress”, is among psychologists who recommend mindfulness as part of the solution. He also advises “exercise and relaxation”.

Marc Richardson, psychologist with Financial Mindfulness, says mindfulness can be very effective at changing old, hard-to-shift negative beliefs we have about money, such as “I’m no good with money”, “spending makes me feel better” and “money is stressful”.

“Through mindfulness we are able to raise awareness of our thought patterns,” Richardson says.

“It’s only through raising awareness of when our negative emotions arise that we can develop capacities to deal with thoughts and feelings. Mindfulness is a really useful strategy for breaking the cycle of negative thought patterns that then lead to negative feelings and enhance feelings of helplessness, hopelessness and then the negative behaviours that can follow. “In fact without mindfulness it would be very hard for us to catch the underlying attitude which then governs our thoughts, reactions and behaviour.”


Mythbusting our beliefs about financial stress

Almost weekly news of rising cost of owning or renting a home – amidst uncertainty over an interest rate rises – backs up that gut feeling that financial stress is everywhere.

When Financial Mindfulness interviewed a dozen people in Hyde Park Sydney while gathering footage for a marketing video, every person we spoke to believed financial stress was all around them.

Continue reading “Mythbusting our beliefs about financial stress”

Mindfulness could complement CBT interventions for depression

Anyone who has been truly depressed understands how vast the difference is between knowing it’s helpful to talk to people and regularly being able to connect with others.

Depression, and its nagging stablemate, anxiety, often render a person so exhausted and full of self-doubt that it feels impossible to escape the prison cell of their own thoughts.
Continue reading “Mindfulness could complement CBT interventions for depression”

What can be done to stop graduates arriving in their careers burdened by financial stress?

Financial stress is increasingly linked to depression and anxiety, then because of that, loss of productivity in the workplace.

Mindfulness is being embraced in the corporate sector as a wellbeing program response to heavy stress at work. Its advocates are optimistic, but even if it’s as effective as hoped, there is no doubt it is a solution to symptoms of other problems.

As the wellbeing microscope begins to sharpen its focus on exactly what stresses us at work, it seems inevitable that the effects of a universal form of debt for the next generation of corporate leaders – student loans –will come in for scrutiny.

In other words, could the collective stress burden of student debt – government-funded and private – be considered an avoidable cost by business?

Today Australian degrees cost between A$20,000 and A$40,000, but by 2026 the cost of the average three year degree in Australia will have swollen to over $A50,000; four year degrees, especially those from prestigious universities in high demand subjects would costs substantially more.

Zookal found 21 per cent of students are worried about how they will pay back their debt, while 22 per cent are already stressed about non-tuition costs, like textbooks. Those numbers sound worrying but are low compared to debt-related stress among tertiary students in the United States.

In the Princeton Review’s College Hopes and Worries Survey, 98 percent of student and parents said they were experiencing some level of anxiety, with more than 70 percent of them pegging it as “high” or “very high.” Since 2014 the largest single stress factor was debt.

Where the stress really bites in is in the worry over repaying a student debt when it comes time to work and juggle other costs and debts: according to Universities Australia, repaying a law degree could take up to 25 years, while a three-year degree could take 14 years to repay, according to Business Insider.
According to Metlife’s 2016 Employee Benefit Trends Study, nearly a third of Australian employees took time off to deal with a financial issue and 41 per cent were distracted from their work due to money worries.

People in the salary bracket $A50,000 to $A74,999 are the second-most financially-stressed, behind those who earn under $50,000, AMP’s 2016 report, Financial Wellness in the Workplace, said. Also, women are more likely like to be financially-stressed than men.

Certainly as long as there is a cost of for tertiary education payment – and for most people studying in Australia repayment is a fact of life. In Australia a fortunate 10 per cent of student have their fees paid for by their parents, but according to textbook rental company Zookal, 80 per cent of students only begin repaying their student debt once they have begun their career.

The current threshold at which graduates must begin to repay their loans (at four per cent per pay packet) is A$54,869, roughly the median starting salary for an under-25 Australian resident bachelor’s degree graduate in 2015. There is pressure to lower that threshold to A$42,000 in order to manage a projected blow-out in Government’s student loan scheme, HECS-HELP.
A law graduate could expect $55,000, a computer science grad $54,000, while an economics or accounting, psychology or veterinarian studies major both faced $50,000. Overall, male graduate starting salaries were $55,000 and females were $53,000.

At present $1.9 billion is never repaid (because students fail to reach the repayment income threshold or move overseas) which is expected to grow to $4 billion by 2026.

A HECS-HELP loan is subject to a negligible interest rate – the Consumer Price Index – and only applied on debts older than 11 months. The rate is currently 1.5 per cent but it has been as high as 3 per cent in 2011.

With the size of student loans growing, the threshold for repayment dropping and work intensification showing no sign of slowing, it’s easy to see where this is headed. Graduates look set to arrive in their careers burdened by financial stress, the single biggest cause of stress for Australians and Americans.

The cost of huge and complex Government student loan systems, as well as inequity, have been acknowledged in a move to free tertiary education by several European countries in recent years. Sweden, Norway and Denmark offer free education – countries that perhaps coincidentally – are all among the 10 happiest countries on earth in many happiness studies.

Things are beginning to shift in the United States, where the student debt crisis is worse. This week, the New York State government rolled out its ground-breaking Excelsior Scholarship program which promises free tertiary tuition for anyone from a family with a combined income of US$100,000. That income test will rise to US$125,000 in 2019.

Tennessee, Oregon, and Minnesota already provide free tuition for institutions with two-year programs, while according to NBC, a dozen other states have pending legislation which would do the same.

American Presidential candidate Bernie Sanders made free tertiary tuition part of his campaign platform – albeit on equity grounds. According to Jeffrey D. Sachs, who edited the chapter, Restoring American Happiness, in the 2017 World Happiness Report, student debt in the US is US$1 trillion and only 36 per cent of people complete a degree.

Perhaps more mindful policymaking as regards the impacts of high education costs and the crippling stress that causes might see a change in direction that would benefit employees and employers alike.

Under-Earning: The shameful side of the financial stress puzzle

When it comes to the subject of ‘financial stress’ a lot of energy and attention is paid to our spending: where does all our money go, we are urged to ask of ourselves and our partners.

The insinuation is that we share a horrible flaw: reckless and clueless impulse spending. That we are over-spenders, who at best use money to still difficult emotions and at worst cannot control our greedy desires.

For some people, sadly, those are uncomfortable truths. But just as many people try with all their willpower and attention to detail to live within their means but cannot seem to make ends meet. For many of them the opposite problem to over-spending applies: under-earning.

Earning less than your skills suggest you should wouldn’t be a problem if it wasn’t so damn expensive to live; so huge numbers of people are driven into debt.

US households on average carry US$132,529 (A$172,326) in debt, according to American financial advice website nerdwallet.com. In Australia the figure is even higher, skyrocketing to A$245,000, according to the National Centre for Social and Economic Modelling (NATSEM). Much of those debts are mortgage repayments, an essential cost and also an investment in our futures. So unavoidable.

But what about credit card debt? In the US, the average credit card debt per household is US$16,061 in (nearly A$21,000), according to nerdwallet’s 2016 American household credit card debt study. Card debt is lower in Australia, but still over A$4362 per cardholder.

“Many people assume that credit card debt is the result of reckless spending and think that to get out of debt, people need to stop buying designer clothes and eating at five-star restaurants,” says Erin El Issa, author of the report.

That is often untrue. “Many people use credit cards to cover necessities when their income just doesn’t cut it,” El Issa wrote.

Nerdwallet found US household debt had increased 11 per cent in the past decade – mainly because growth in the cost of living had outpaced growth in wages: “Median household income has grown 28% since 2003, but expenses have outpaced it significantly. Medical costs increased by 57% and food and beverage prices by 36% in that same span.”

One answer to how we cope with going backwards even when we have the best of intentions is to confront the issue raised near the start of this article: under-earning.

But beyond a state most of us find difficult, even shameful to talk about, what is under-earning, exactly?

First it’s useful to identify what under-earning is not. Barbara Stanny, author of Overcoming Underearning: A Five Step Plan for a Richer Life wrote in Forbes in 2011 that an under-earner is not someone who chooses a low income, or a simpler life without much work. “It is always a CONDITION OF DEPRIVATION [sic] not just of money, but of time, joy, freedom, choices and self-esteem,” Stanny wrote.

Under-earners are often drowning in debt and vague about money, she wrote. They might even have an “anti-money attitude”, unwittingly sabotage their own career prospects and underestimate their value at work.

Often they are also co-dependent (meaning they put others’ needs ahead of their own).

Under-earning is a chronic condition that’s not going to be fixed in a day, let alone by reading an article, but awareness of it can start to break decades-long negative cycles. People work through deep-seated issues like these using anything from various forms of therapy to 12 step recovery to mindfulness practice.

The latter approach can help alleviate financial stresses and strains at two levels. “Mindfulness practice won’t necessarily change your earnings,” says Tomas Jajesnica, Chief Mindfulness Officer at Financial Mindfulness and a corporate-based mindfulness trainer and meditation teacher.

“But it will give you a new awareness of what you are doing and help change your approach to what and how you spend and what you earn.”

Jajesnica says regular mindfulness practice will help people clearly see the reality of their situation, “instead of being stuck … with your mind racing 100 miles an hour” – and will give you the calm to deal with it. And you’ll need that calmness because negative, even painful, feelings are likely to come out of seeing the realities behind your financial stress.

“Frustration can be sign of a breakthrough,” Jajesnica says.

“It might help you get into action, perhaps seeking a pay rise, having an authentic conversation with your boss or it might put you into gear to pursue a better-paid vocation, either within the same company, the same industry or by doing something totally new.

“Either way, if you change your relationship towards money by first accepting the reality as it is, is a great start to this process.”

Financial Stress could harm unborn children

Being under financial stress is bad enough for adults, but there’s new evidence to suggest money worries could harm us before we are even born.

Research done by Amanda Mitchell and Lisa Christian from The Ohio State University, which was published in the Archives of Womens Mental Health journal in December 2016, has found a correlation between “financial strain” and low birth weights in new born babies.

Being born under-weight has been associated with disease in later life including obesity, diabetes, heart disease and high blood pressure.

Mitchell and Christian found: “pregnancy-specific distress and depressive symptoms, but not perceived stress or general anxiety, serve as mediators in the relationship between financial strain and birth weight in pregnant women.” In other words, financial stress increases depressive symptoms and pregnancy-specific distress (but not general anxiety) which in turn, is associated with lower birth weight.

It was already known that financial strain has “significant mental and physical health effects” and “contributes to adverse health outcomes in women, such as increased oxidative stress levels, greater malnutrition risk, lower self-rated health, and recurrent coronary events”. It was also known that financial strain can lead to depression in women before and after the birth of a child.

But this research is believed to be the first time the link between money stress and birth weight has been proven.

The study followed the progress of 138 women in Ohio throughout their pregnancy. Eighty-five per cent of respondents were married or in a relationship, 59 per cent had complete a college (or university) degree or higher and 67 per cent were employed. Half earned at least $50,000 a year and while the biggest group earned less than $15,000 a year, the next biggest made over $100,000 a year.

Women who used illicit drugs, consumed more than two drinks a week, had foetal abnormalities or more than one foetus or were extremely obese were excluded.

It established the women’s levels financial strain from three questions: “How difficult is it for you to live on your total household income right now?”; “In the next two months, how likely is it that you and your family will experience actual hardships, such as inadequate housing, food, or medical attention?” and “How likely is it that you and your family will have to reduce your standard of living to the bare necessities in life?”

Mitchell and Christian suggested further research was needed to see how measures used to reduce “pregnancy-specific distress” could change the relationship between financial strain and low birth weights.