Photographer: Akos Stiller/Bloomberg

If You Speak German, You’re More Likely to Be a Penny Pincher

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  • Culture key for people’s propensity to save, ECB paper finds
  • Switzerland’s three language groups provide basis for study

Once again, it’s the German speakers who pinch their pennies.

At least that’s the conclusion of a European Central Bank working paper by Benjamin Guin. He looked at Switzerland, a country boasting three major linguistic and cultural groups, where most policies and laws such as interest rates or taxes that affect savings rates are set at a national or cantonal level.

Source: ECB Working Paper No. 2069 by Benjamin Guin

That allowed Guin, an economist from the University of St. Gallen now working at the Bank of England, to dig into the nitty-gritty to figure out if people of one language group behaved differently than another. In Zurich, the principal language is German, while in Geneva it’s French. Some cantons, such as Bern, the seat of the government, are bi-lingual.

“I show that low- and middle-income households located in the German-speaking part are more than 11 percentage points more likely to save than similar households in the French-speaking part,” the author concluded. “Empirical evidence suggests that households’ exposure to cultural groups can – at least partly – explain some of the observed cross-country differences in household saving.”

The study is relevant to the euro area, where Germany’s reluctance to invest if it means taking on more debt – at the private and the public level – faces off with piles of non-performing loans in  countries including Italy and Spain.

The cultural difference in peoples’ approach to borrowing didn’t escape former Italian Prime Minister Mario Monti. In a 2015 interview, he acknowledged the two meanings of the world “Schuld.”

“In German, debt is the same word as guilt,” he said.

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