Aesop would have had a straightforward explanation for why some people just can’t manage to save up for retirement: Some people are born ants—industrious and in possession of great willpower—while others are grasshoppers, living only for today.
Millennia later, sorting workers into personality-specific boxes is still the preferred way of thinking about how to get people to put more money into savings. An otherwise thoughtful survey of over 1,000 individuals and interviews with 50 people by the MetLife Mature Markets Institute identifies no fewer than 10 different variations on the grasshopper: There are “Snoozers,” “Oversleepers,” “Stewers,” “Brewers.” And then there are “Preemptive Planners,” whose radar screens are populated with future risks. If people fit into these neat buckets, the conventional savings wisdom goes, then the solution is to educate the grasshoppers to start behaving more like ants.
MetLife isn’t wrong to dwell on personality types. Researchers such as Angela Duckworth, a professor of psychology at the University of Pennsylvania, have found convincing links between personality traits and savings. Duckworth doesn’t talk about “oversleepers,” but about the Big Five personality traits: conscientiousness, agreeableness, neuroticism, openness, and extroversion. Conscientious types, she’s found, tend to save more money.