Wealth can positively contribute to health in a multitude of often obvious ways. Rich people can pay for procedures poorer people can’t, and they often live in areas with better access to health care. They also have the resources to travel if they need to see a specialist. Having money also comes with psychological benefits, providing peace of mind and often warding off stressors economically disadvantaged folks deal with every day. Now, a study in Social Psychological and Personality Science has brought to light a social difference: High earners spend more time socializing with friends than poorer counterparts. Whether it's a health bonus, however, is open for interpretation.

Researchers from Emory University and the University of Minnesota looked at data from two large, nationally representative surveys and found that Americans with higher incomes spend an average of 6.5 more evenings socializing with friends each year than those at the lowest end of the income spectrum, even though they spend 6.4 fewer evenings socializing in general throughout the year. The well off also spend more time alone, however. Meanwhile, the social interactions of lower-income Americans mostly happened with family and neighbors.

“For people with limited financial resources, these social ties are likely to be crucial for managing existing and impending challenges,” the authors wrote. These challenges could include childcare, completing chores, and other household tasks — things low-income households may rely on family for help with. “Hence, people with limited resources might be particularly attuned to the relationships that are most strongly associated with giving and receiving instrumental support.”

In contrast, richer households can afford to outsource such tasks, freeing up time to socialize with friends without an objective. Though the reasons for differences between how socioeconomic groups socialize were logical, Bianchi told The Atlantic she was surprised by how strongly income could predict social habits.

“We know that, generally, income — or at least access to money in an experimental context — is associated with less time or less interest in others,” she said. “So, on the one hand, we thought that income would negatively predict time spent with friends. On the other hand, it’s a luxury. You can choose your friends — you can’t choose your family. Neighbors are somewhere in between. But certainly, friendships are our most voluntary type of social tie.”

The study doesn’t go so far as to predict the implications of these differences, though the researchers say it could lead to less civic engagement.

“If the wealthy are orienting their social worlds toward friends and away from neighbors and relatives, it seems likely that they would also be less involved in residential communities,” Bianchi said. “Wealthier people may be less civically engaged with their neighborhood communities and more civically engaged with self-selected communities such as private schools or political organizations.”

Source: Bianchi E, Vohs K. Social Class and Social Worlds: Income Predicts the Frequency and Nature of Social Contact. Social Psychological & Personality Science. 2016.