The factor that may be better at predicting wealth than age and race

Instead of falling for a get-rich-quick scheme, consider the rewards of waiting. A new study in the Frontiers of Psychology journal found that our ability to delay gratification is among the best predictors of wealth, a factor the ranks above ethnicity, height, age, or race.

Why the ability to wait can make you rich

Occupation, education, location as determined by zip code and gender were the top four factors predicting wealth with delayed gratification, or “delay discounting” in fifth place, and ethnicity, height, age, and race coming in last place. To test our ability to wait, researchers recruited participants to choose between getting $500 immediately or waiting out for a larger sum of money like $1,000 at a later time up to a year away. Those who were able to hold out were also people who were likely to have attained wealth.

The researchers suggest that the ability to abstain helps people stay away from “undesirable life choices” that could prevent them from getting rich like substance abuse and gambling addictions. In this way, immediate gratification can “derail individuals from pursuing education and may ultimately preclude entry into certain lucrative occupational niches,” the researchers said.

To get yourself into this waiting mindset, consider the long game. “If people can vividly imagine themselves in the future with the larger rewards, they are more likely to be patient,” the study stated. For some people, this patience means living below your means, so that you can get the reward of not having to work in the future. The New York Times recently highlighted Millennials in their 30s who were retiring early, because they were able to “slash one’s expenses to maximize saving while amassing income-generating investments sufficient to support oneself.” Some had accrued wealth, others were using what they had earned and making it stretch longer.

These stories tell us that affluence is not just about what you learned in school and what you do — it’s also a mental game about what you are willing to wait for as a reward.