By Niels Hoven 2009/04/16

Now that your taxes are done, we thought we'd explore the sexier side of financial insolvency. Those of you excited about a little more recreational activity in your bedrooms should keep reading. It turns out all these financial disasters may have a bit of a silver lining.

Exhibit A is the following graph, which shows the average number of times Americans have sex each year, broken down by their level of satisfaction with their financial situation. The data is from the General Social Survey, a National Science Foundation project that has interviewed over 50,000 people over the last four decades.

People with the most money have the least sex

The data is clear – for the past twenty years, dissatisfaction with one's financial situation is consistently associated with more sex. We will refer to this as the "More Money, Less Sex" Effect.

Of course, we have to be careful not to confuse correlation with causation. It's equally plausible that the causality goes the other direction: that having lots of sex contributes to less satisfaction with your financial situation. Or maybe you're just left with less time to go to work. This seems vaguely plausible.

Or perhaps there's another hidden, confounding variable. Let's bring age into the mix and see what happens.

Frequency of sex declines dramatically with age

First, take a moment to appreciate how rapidly sex lives evaporate with age. Shed a quiet tear. When you're ready, we'll move on.

Using line width to represent population size, we see our first graph was biased by the large numbers of financially dissatisfied young people having lots of sex. We should look more closely at age's effect on the sex/money relationship.

Young people without money have a lot of sex, old people with money have a lot of sex

Notice that the relationship between financial stability and one's sex life is markedly different based on the respondents' age. Dissatisfaction with one's financial situation doesn't appear to have any effect on libido, because the younger, financially strapped respondents are having A LOT of sex.

The situation changes rather sharply after age 35, though. Perhaps by that age, financial difficulties make one a less desirable sexual partner. The moral is clear though - If you want to keep the fires burning into your golden years, get your financial affairs together early. (Not too early, though. Right around age 35 would be perfect.)

Age 35 is the transition point for the general population. Segmenting by gender, however, reveals another interesting pattern. For men, the burden of financial responsibility doesn't become a prerequisite for great sex until the early 40's. It happens a decade earlier for women – around age 30. Interestingly, this is just after average childbearing age for both groups. (The second inversion for men, at age 80, has a very small sample size so we'll refrain from reading anything into it.)

Men without money have sex well into their 40s, women without money see their sex lives decline rapidly even in their early 30s

While we don't recommend you leave your job just yet, the data doesn't lie. (Download the packaged workbook and explore the data for yourself.) Particularly when we're near our sexual peaks, more money = less sex.


Sorry, but this is a big BS.

Clearly the high correlation is between sex & age, and not sex & financial status. Financial status is a dependent variable, highly dependent of age (Gen Y tend to earn less, while GenX+ tend to earn more).

The data doesn't lie, but poor analysis will mislead the conclusions.

You're right, the strongest correlation is between frequency of sex and age, not frequency of sex and financial status. The headline was a bit sensationalistic. If you dive into the article, however, we control for age, and that's when the really interesting relationships appear - that within a given age, financial status has a very strong relationship with frequency of sex. And most interestingly, the nature of that relationship changes based on the age bracket.

Oh, and to everyone coming from Y Combinator Hacker News - Yes, causation != correlation, and if this was an academic article I'd never get away with such blatantly sensationalistic implications. I figured that implying causality would be so obviously ridiculous that people could laugh and move on to the really interesting correlations. Point taken and my apologies, though, I'll try to be more responsible in my next post.

this is not BS, go and look at India, Chaina or Africa

and then Go and look at Austria!

Interesting, but age is a huge confounding factor. If you're interested, you should do the analysis by age (filter the results for AGE(18-24), AGE(25-34), etc) to see how strong the financial situation/sex frequency relationship is among people in the same generation.

I agree. That's why the last three graphs segment the population by age. It was sort of the point of my post. Thanks for the comment, Epigone, I'm enjoying your blog.

I guess I could be a case study;-)I'm case in point that indeed every cloud has a silver lining.

Come on' guys...lighten up. I'm just a guest, definitely not an academian but I definitely had a little smile on this headline...

And yes for me, indeed, a recent layoff did wonders for the bedroom.

That's why the last three graphs segment the population by age. It was sort of the point of my post.

I think the happiness researchers would say that we are all born with a tendency to be more or less happy. Optimists, for example, are happier than pessimists. And, probably, in general, asexuals are not as happy as people with a more average sex drive.

George from