“Money on my mind": The dynamics of financial worry

Meet the researchers: Bert Schreurs, Ruud Gerards & Riccardo Welters
Posted on April 09, 2020

Meet the winners of the TFI long-term research grant: Bert Schreurs (Vrije Universiteit Brussel), Ruud Gerards (Maastricht University) and Riccardo Welters (James Cook University). They will study when and for whom financial worry influences personal well-being, social and human capital, and labour market behaviour. Who are the researchers and what is the main motto of this project and its expected impact?

A substantial and increasing share of households in industrialised countries have incomes too low to cover all basic needs, and regularly forego on needs such as heating their house or buying essential clothing. These people have ‘money on their mind’. Whilst the body of literature studying financial worry is growing, little is known about the dynamics of financial worry. With this project, we aim to:

1) examine the extent to which financial worry is “dynamic”, that is, does an individual’s financial worry change over time, for instance, from one week to another even when their financial position has not necessarily changed?;

2) examine how changes in individuals’ financial worry relate to and influence their personal well-being, social and human capital, and labour market behaviour; and

3) identify moderating factors that could mitigate the negative effects of financial worry; that is, factors that may offset the harmful effects of financial worry and eventually help in breaking the poverty cycle.

Over a period of six months, we will conduct bi-weekly surveys of individuals with various backgrounds, in three countries (Australia, Belgium, and the Netherlands), to monitor their financial worry in relation to the various outcome variables. In addition, we will test if financial worry depends on personality, community and organizational support, and culture. This will be the first study that investigates how and why the detrimental effects of financial distress are reinforced over time. Our longitudinal design allows the investigation of the often cited but rarely tested cyclical (or spiralling) effect of poverty.

Our research will reveal patterns in financial worry and the circumstances and behaviours that may reinforce or break those patterns. This is of utmost importance to individuals and households in financially precarious situations as well as to policymakers in the public sector, and to practitioners and other stakeholders in the private sector, including financial institutions.

“To help solve people’s financial difficulties, we need to understand how financial stress develops and affects people’s behaviour.”

What motivated you to work together with the Think Forward Initiative?

As researchers, we were already focused on the impact of financial worries on people’s behaviour. Our idea to study the dynamics of financial worry and its impact on well-being, social and human capital and labour market behaviour coincides with the purpose of the TFI of empowering people to make better financial decisions. The aims of the TFI align perfectly with the aims of our research, and the strong consortium of sponsors and member organizations that backs the research projects can help us implement our research plans and ensures that our results will be read and consider by those who can use it to make a real difference in practice.

How do you expect your research results to contribute to people’s financial well-being?

The channels via which people could benefit from the results of this study operate via several stakeholders. First, the knowledge that this study aims to generate about the dynamics of financial worry can help public sector policymakers and practitioners - such as social workers, debt relief counsellors and unemployment caseworkers – to tailor their information, supervision and guidance techniques, to help prevent or moderate the adverse effects of their clients’ financial precarious situations on their clients’ financial stress levels.

The results may help these stakeholders increase the resilience of their clients against the daily financial stresses and help them reach a more longer-term perspective on financial events. Lower levels of financial distress may result in more responsible and less ill-judged financial decision-making. Second, our study can help private sector financial institutions, financial services providers, budget coaches, but also other large services providers such as health insurers or utilities companies to lower the financial worries that the withdrawals and deposits to and from their clients’ bank accounts can cause. Furthermore, these institutions may use our future results to further refine and expand the functionality of their consumer-focused apps and web-based customer interaction interfaces, which may ultimately lower financial worries for the clients.

The research team

Bert Schreurs is an Associate Professor at the Department of Business, Research Group Management and Strategy, Vrije Universiteit Brussel (VUB), Belgium. He obtained his PhD degree in psychology from the University of Leuven in 2007. Previously, he held positions at Maastricht University, Utrecht University and the University of Leuven, and worked as a HR-advisor for the Belgian government. His current research interests include economic stress, career management, and proactivity at work. He has published in various journals such as Journal of Organizational Behavior, Journal of Occupational Health Psychology, Journal of Vocational Behavior, Human Resource Management Review, and Work & Stress. Currently, he is Associate Editor of Career Development International. He is also a Past Chair of the Academy of Management Careers Division.

Ruud Gerards is a research leader at Maastricht University's Research Centre for Education and the Labour Market (ROA). He obtained his PhD degree in economics from Maastricht University in 2012. Previously, he held positions at Statistics Netherlands (CBS), PricewaterhouseCoopers, H&S Adviseurs and Fontys University of Applied Sciences. His research focuses on sustainable employability in the 21st century, which amongst others includes investigating the effects of people’s financial stresses and resilience on their well-being and labour market outcomes and the effects that New Ways of Working have on employees. He has published in various journals such as Oxford Bulletin of Economics and Statistics, British Journal of Industrial Relations, Applied Economics, Personnel Review and Technovation.

Riccardo Welters is an Associate Professor at the College of Business, Law and Governance at James Cook University, Australia. He completed his PhD in (labour market) economics at Maastricht University, the Netherlands. Previously, he held positions at Maastricht University and University of Newcastle, Australia. His current research interests include job search behaviour and labour market casualization—or more broadly socio-economic disadvantage in the labour market. He has published in various journals including Oxford Bulletin of Economics and Statistics, Regional Studies, Journal of Rural Studies, Ecological Economics, Journal of Economic Psychology and Labour Economics. He is a research associate at the Centre of Full Employment and Equity (University of Newcastle) and a research fellow at the Research Centre for Education and the Labour Market (University of Maastricht).