Would you work if you won the lottery?

Theoretical Framework and Methods

This article looks at whether workers would continue to work even if it were not financially necessary.  This is a question which comes up in many different contexts including popular culture.  Through this interesting dataset one is able to look at changes in responses to this question from the 1950’s until today.  The authors build on the work of Vecchio (1980) to offer updated results of this survey.  As the authors note, the percentage of people who stated that they would continue to work steadily declined until roughly 1993 when it appears to have remained relatively constant.  There is not an established theoretical framework for work attitude changes over such a long period of time.  The authors mention one possible explanation is changes in the work ethic to be more “self” focused in later generations.  This explanation does not, however, explain the flattening of the percentage of people stating they would continue working if they did not need to do so.  To this question the authors bring up the potential of changes in parenting to emphasize work versus play or even changes in how candid respondents were to the survey question.

Strengths and Weaknesses

One of the strengths of this paper was the use of GDP as a moderator in the relationship between time and lottery question responses was an interesting and useful decision.  The findings do point out a quandary that even though people are asked if they would not need to work many displayed a desire to do so during worse economic times.  It would be interesting to tease this apart further, perhaps through more refined economic indicators and perhaps through the economic status of individuals surveyed.

One of the weaknesses is the fact that while this question has a valuable longitudinal associated data set it is a very limited question.  The authors attempted to broaden it by including women in their version of the story and did not see a large impact for gender or other demographic variables.  Unfortunately, the question does not specify what is meant by work or how long individuals would decide not to work.  For example, is volunteering considered work or more appropriately are there jobs that these individuals would do even without compensation?  The authors effectively utilized the dataset and extended the research.  They also appropriately point to the need for further research to isolate the causes of these changes.

Potential Future Actions

In addition to the suggestions the authors made for future studies, it would be interesting to follow previous lottery winners to see if they actually did work.  There may be a difference between individuals who say they will or will not work and their actual behaviors.  Looking at the behavior of past winners might shed light on this question.

The moderator analysis of the economic condition also brought up some interesting questions.  It would be interesting to look at these results against the “American Customer Satisfaction Index” which gives a more granular look at different sectors of the economy and may deliver a greater understanding of the economic sectors, industries, companies, and government agencies that have an impact on these responses.  This might shed light on aspects of the economy which may have a larger impact on the fear of leaving the workforce than others.


Highhouse, S., Zickar, M., & Yankelevich, M. (2010). Would you work if you won the lottery? Tracking changes in the American work ethic. Journal of Applied Psychology95(2), 349-357.

Posted: September 29th, 2012 | Author: | Uncategorized | No Comments »

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