Search data begins to support social-scientific research, in this case confirming the negative correlation between time-preference and prosperity, at the national level:
The enormous volume and availability of data on individuals’ online behaviors and the increasing integration of online and real-world activity provides an alternative to the use of standard scales on relatively small samples of individuals for studying individuals’ time-perspective. The present study is (to the best of our knowledge) the first to use the psychology of individuals to inspire the creation of nation-level measures of time-perspective. In particular, we have constructed four measures of time-perspective from search engine query data and examined their relationship with a widely-used measure of economic activity: per-capita GDP. As predicted, nations with high per-capita GDP are more focused on the future, less focused on the past, and have longer past time-horizons. Of course, the direction of causality cannot be established from this correlational analysis, but the strong association of our time-perspective measures with per-capita GDP does demonstrate that these measures are capturing something systematic about the economic activity of a nation.
Our finding that a greater future focus is associated with higher per-capita GDP is consistent with studies of individuals. Just as the individuals focused on the future are better able to pursue career goals*, the nations focused on the future may be better able to strive for economic success and thus have higher per-capita GDP.
* Zimbardo PG, Boyd J (1999) Putting time in perspective: A valid, reliable individual-differences metric. J Pers Soc Psychol 77: 1271–1288 doi:10.1037/0022-35188.8.131.521.