Updated: Mar 4, 2020
There are no shortage of things promising health or wealth. Therapy typically offers health. Can it also make you richer? This is a review of a 2017 study, and I hope to provide you an answer.
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“Men can expect to gain between 12.3% and 12.4” from psychotherapy, while for women the expected gain varies between 10.1% and 8.1%” (p. 268).
For a $50k salary, this means a $4050 to $6200 yearly benefit.
Income increased not only while in therapy—benefit continued after therapy over.
If you think therapy could help your mental health, but worry about the cost, this study might relieve some of your concerns.
Cozzi, Galli, & Mantovan (2018). Will a shrink make you richer? Gender differences in the effects of psychotherapy on labour efficiency. European Economic Review, 109, 257-274.
Let’s start with a story. Joe wakes up for work, groggy as usual. He has a habit of staying up too late reading the news or…let’s be honest…scrolling the endless pages of the internet. He is tired, forgetful, distracted, and more forgetful than he would be if he got enough sleep. This is how he spends his workdays—exhausted.
Would you say that getting enough sleep would make him rich? No. Of course not. However, his odds of performing better at work would increase, and his odds of getting fired decrease, if he regularly got 8 hours of shut-eye. That may be how psychotherapy can help you get richer.
The core message of this study seems to be: (1) Psychotherapy increases health. (2) Better health leads to more productivity and income. There is a large body of research suggesting that better health leads to increased productivity. Researcher have studied the effects of mental health less often, though the negative effects of diagnosable disorders have been demonstrated (such as earning 10-29% less).
What this study does differently is study the reverse process—not whether having a diagnosable mental disorder decreases your income, but whether seeking treatment for mental distress (e.g., stress, anxiety, depression) might increase productivity and income.
Their hypothesis? Yes: going to therapy will increase your income. Their results—yes, but the details are important.
They studied 7,934 workers in the UK who responded to 18 waves of questions from 1995 to 2008. The researchers used math to isolate the impact of going to therapy or not going to therapy on income. The 7,934 people they studied all said they had difficulties with their general mental health (there were other folks in the data that they removed—they were only interested in those with mental health problems). They were questioned 18 times, and each time they said they went to a therapist in the past year, this was counted as seeing a therapist and their income was compared. So what did they find?
Both women and men benefitted. Even considering the cost of finding a therapist, childcare when they are with the therapist, and the lost time at the therapist—income increased. Men benefitted a lot. They found that the effect of therapy on men’s income was 18-36% stronger than it was for women, and said that a man could expect to gain 12.3-12.4% income after going to therapy (women could expect an 8.1-10.1% increase).
Not only did folks’ income increase the year of therapy: “accessing the services of a psychotherapist does not only have a contemporaneous effect on income but also has a permanent effect” (p. 260). Said another way, therapy has an effect on income while you are in it, but also for the years ahead.
There were a couple other interesting findings worth mentioning:
1) The gender income gap: The mental health of women seemed to benefit more from therapy (though the researchers did not measure mental health outcomes with much specificity, so take that with skepticism). Thus, the income bump was not because men gained more health than women—just the opposite in fact. So what causes it? They suggested that gender discrimination can create stress, depression, anxiety and other mental health problems for women, which may be the presenting issue for some of them to seek psychotherapy. The therapy she subsequently receives may reduce her distress, but will do little to increase her salary (unless she changes jobs or can successfully negotiate a higher salary despite the discrimination).
2) During this 18 year study, 22.97% of women went to therapy at some point, but only 14.78% of men went to therapy. Men tend to seek help less often—even though these same men might have enjoyed a significant increase in earning potential.
What do we learn from this study? If you are stressed, feeling depressed, having trouble sleeping, or generally feel that your mental health could improve, therapy may be an investment worth making—not only for your subjective well-being, but for your current and future income. This is true especially if you are a man. And fellas: you are less likely to seek help, but at least in terms of income, you have the most to gain from therapy.
 Cai, L. (2010). The relationship between health and labour force participation: Evidence from a panel data simultaneous equation model. Labour Econ, 17 (pp. 77-90).
 Ettner, S.L., Frank, R.G., Kessler, R. (1997). The impact of psychiatric disorders on labor market outcomes. Individual Labor Economics, 4A, 1-102.
 They controlled for age, marital status, number of children, professional status, and whether the person paid for a private clinician or saw a free National Health Service (NHS) clinician.