This study shows why losing your wallet might not be the worst thing

The study, published in the journal Science, bucked the perceived belief that losing your wallet meant you’d never see it again.

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There’s some good news if you ever lose your wallet.

A new study spanning 355 cities in 30 countries found that people around the globe are more likely to return a stranger’s lost wallet, especially when it’s stuffed with cash.

The study, published in the journal Science, bucked the perceived belief that losing your wallet meant you’d never see it again. How researchers planned the social experiment was fascinating: more than 17,000 missing wallets were spread out across cities and returned to places like museums, banks, and other establishments.


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Each experiment involved a research assistant, who doubled as a tourist. The tourist would walk into a bank or a different place with a wallet

The research assistants, who doubled as tourists, returned the lost wallets to receptionists or employees to take the next steps into contacting the owners. Each wallet contained three commonalities: identical business cards, a grocery list, and a key. Some wallets had no money, while others had the local equivalent of $13.45.

The takeaway: the more money you have in your wallet, the better chance you have of it being returned. When money was present in the wallet, more than half (51%) were returned compared to wallets not having any cash (40%).

In some countries like the US, the UK, and Poland, the researchers added more money to see if a larger sum would tempt people to think otherwise about returning it. It turned out to be opposite with 72% returning missing wallets that held nearly $100.

“We were expecting a lower return rate when [the wallet] had more money,” said University of Michigan behavioral economist Alain Cohn.

Kyle Schnitzer|is a reporter for Ladders and can be reached at kschnitzer@theladders.com.