Like politics and religion, we usually consider it a little impolite or touchy to talk about how much money someone does or doesn’t have. But what if there wasn’t a way to hide our financial situation? What if people could just look at you and suddenly know you’re down on your luck or, conversely, that you’ve got enough money to play like Elvis Presley and buy everybody Cadillacs?  

According to a new study from the University of Toronto, they can. The researchers discovered that financial differences show up right in people’s faces, literally etched into your facial structure and tissues.

Your Life Gets Written Onto You

Graduate student R. Thora Bjornsdottir and psychology professor Nicholas O. Rule, who led the study, took gray-scale pictures of 80 men and 80 women. The people in the photos came from different ethnic backgrounds and didn’t have piercings or tattoos. Half made $60,000 a year or less, while the other half made $100,000 or more.

When Bjornsdottir and Rule had undergraduate students look at the photos, they found that the students could guess the economic status of the individuals in the picture 68 percent of the time. The students were most accurate when the photos included neutral expressions, and being able to see the entire face gave better results than being able to see just the mouth or eyes.

While the students themselves couldn’t pin down why they were able to make the distinction, the co-authors think they were picking up on very subtle physical evidence of previous emotions that can tie back to money. For example, someone who is chronically stressed and anxious because they aren’t financially secure might show deeper lines in their brow, while someone who’s content and financially stable might reveal deeper lines around the mouth from smiling.

Bjornsdottir asserts that, over time, the contraction of muscles associated with various expressions actually can lead to changes in facial structure. Because the brain is so hardwired to pick up on facial cues for social purposes and survival, others easily can pick up on these changes, even when the changes are extremely subtle.

Two Big Implications

Bjornsdottir and Rule’s study has two significant takeaways for professionals.

1. You can’t fake it forever.

Students read “money” clues in faces less accurately when the people in the photos were showing emotion. This implies that you can fake it a little by consciously smiling or using other positive expressions. But you know who keeps up those types of expressions all the time? Nobody. At some point, you’ll let your guard down. And in a business era where authenticity is critical, you might be much better off just being honest and not trying to pretend.

2. Your biases about money can keep poverty cycles going.

When people look rich through their clothes or faces, we tend to associate a ton of positive attributes–for example, intelligence, diligence, and creativity–to them. This holds true even though research shows that, to a large degree, wealth is pure dumb luck. If you subconsciously notice the clues about money written on someone’s face, those biases might creep into your interactions and hiring decisions. Qualified people who deserve your attention and opportunities might never get them unless you make a conscious effort to stay neutral, seek additional opinions, and take more time to truly get to know the person involved. Bjornsdottir notes this potential problem in a University of Toronto article summarizing the study.

“[The study] indicates that something as subtle as the signals in your face about your social class can actually then perpetuate it. Those first impressions can become a sort of self-fulfilling prophecy. It’s going to influence your interactions, and the opportunities you have.”

An important subtlety of the study is that the results hold true even for young adults. Rule points out that the facial etchings are discernable in people who are just 18 to 22 years old. These individuals have to fight not only the bias about their economic status, but also generational preconceptions, such as being lazy or overly distracted by technology. Because they don’t have other elements like years of work experience to offer some balance, the young poor might be at particularly high risk for discrimination. That’s not a good thing, considering the current high competitiveness of the job market.

What We Teach Matters
The results of this study show what can happen when money is a central focus in life and society. But what if it weren’t? Studies show that, at a certain point (somewhere around $95,000), you don’t get any happier with additional wealth. And many of the world’s most revered and notable people have lived a philosophy of minimalism coupled with compassion. Mahatma Gandhi and Mother Teresa are two examples. While we of course have to think about the roof over our head and where we’re going to get a meal, teaching ourselves and our children to see the good around us and to be content with less might help us etch a very different kind of richness on our faces and live far better. We might not have a choice about our money, but we do have a choice in how we see and react to the world.


Even if you walk tall and wear designer pieces, you still might look poor to others.

The Surprising Way People Can Tell if You’re Rich

First Money is like sex: the more of it you have, the less likely you are to obsess about it.

The Surprising Way People Can Tell if You’re Rich

Only problem with Lamborghini no trunk space

The Surprising Way People Can Tell if You’re Rich

How do you figure out if someone is secretly wealthy?

The Surprising Way People Can Tell if You’re Rich

They have nice clothes, but usually avoid “designer” brands, gaudy jewelry, and other outward displays of conspicuous consumption. I'll let you in on a little secret - money is like sex: the more of it you have, the less likely you are to obsess about it. Which is why many really wealthy people don't live conspicuous lifestyles. It's why the most popular car among millionaires is a pickup truck and not Mercedes/BMW/etc. For every insecure egomaniac living the lifestyle of the rich and shameless, there are a dozen living quietly - or what the late Thomas Stanley called “The millionaire next door” The quiet millionaires typically live a slightly upper middle class lifestyle. They have nice homes, but not mansions. They are more likely to drive Hondas, Subarus, Volvos, Jeep Grand Cherokees, or a Ford F150. They shop at Costco, and Target. They have nice clothes, but usually avoid “designer” brands, gaudy jewelry, and other outward displays of conspicuous consumption. So how do you tell them apart? * They tend to be foodies: Many of the quietly wealthy I know have amazing kitchens and like to cook, as well as go out to restaurants known for their chefs. They know their way around a 5 star menu. Wine collections are common, with 25 or 30 really great wines as well as the occasional “two buck chuck” or $12 bottle of wine. Look for top notch cookware and appliances. * They read: The average American watches 4 hours of TV a day. The average millionaire spends that much time reading each day. Not one wealthy person I know can tell you who got voted off whatever island the night before. But they can probably tell you what's on the New York Times bestseller list that week. * They value unique experiences: Everybody takes a vacation. The secretly wealthy are often well traveled without being “touristy”. They've visited at least 5 other countries, and like the more out of the way places - Iceland, Peru, New Zealand, Patagonia. A trip to Antarctica is a dead giveaway. * They lack “stuff”: The one odd paradox I've noticed about the wealthy is that the more money they have, the less cluttered their life is. Their homes are not filled with useless knickknacks. They can actually park their cars in the garage. Their homes are often downright minimalist. Look for unique and original pieces of art (not necessarily something we'll know or something very expensive) * They are health conscious: A wealthy friend once told me that “Your appearance is a reflection of the respect you have for yourself”. Nearly every wealthy acquaintance I have is a fitness nut. Daily yoga, running, cycling, swimming, marathons, home gym equipment, etc. A quietly wealthy friend of mine has a $10,000 gym in his basement. If you're wealthy and happy, you tend to want to live a long healthy life so you can enjoy it all. * They support the Arts: I always seem to run into the same people at the local museums, operas, classical music concerts, art walks, charity events, and botanical gardens. They are frequently members of the respective institutions and cherish the members only events. It's always hard to generalize on a large group of people, but I think that would cover 2/3rds of the quietly wealthy people I know. For every category listed above, I know several exceptions and I'm sure others do as well. In the end, they are secretly wealthy for a reason - wealth doesn't define them and they would rather not have others define them by it either. Life is easier as a quiet millionaire. Once people find out you're rich, they treat you differently and constantly judge you. If you spend money, you're accused of showing off; live frugally and you're a cheapskate. Weddings, birthdays, and Christmas are a nightmare because everyone expects some over the top gift. Overspend on one relative, and the rest will expect more. You also start to wonder how many of your “friends” are real. After a while, the only people you trust are other wealthy people. If you suspect someone is secretly wealthy, just leave them be. If they really trust you, they'll tell you eventually. Maybe.

Source: By Bernie Klinder

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