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$10 Million Question: To Work or Not to Work?

$10 Million Question: To Work or Not to Work?

by Linda Lyons

Martin Luther and John Calvin would be pleased. Four centuries after they introduced Western Europe to the concept of work as a religious "calling" and the "will of God," strong work ethics are alive and well in America. According to Gallup's annual Work and Education poll*, 55% of working Americans told Gallup that, even if they won $10 million, they would still continue working; 44% would take the money and run.

Religiosity, as measured by church attendance, may indeed have some influence on the work ethic -- 62% of weekly attenders who are employed say they would continue to work regardless of overnight wealth, compared with 53% of working Americans who attend church less often or never. 

Age may also be a factor. Six in 10 employees (59%) under the age of 50 say they would stay in the workforce, compared with 45% of those aged 50 and older. This makes sense considering many Americans 50 and older may already be thinking ahead to the days when they will no longer have to work. Those over 50 may also have achieved many of their career objectives and may not feel a strong desire to continue working to achieve them.

A solid majority of American workers (66%) who are "completely satisfied" with their current jobs want to continue to work, compared with less than half (44%) who are only somewhat satisfied or dissatisfied. "I would never give up working," says one survey respondent Gallup contacted after the survey. The 56-year-old Philadelphia attorney, who arbitrates complex commercial matters, says she has her "dream job." "I feel that I'm making a contribution to society and to the legal profession."

Niki Wyatt, a 44-year-old union laborer from Illinois, thinks differently. "I would quit working immediately," he says, "and spend all my time just managing my new money. It would be a lot more fun."

On the other hand, Patrick Vance, a hair salon owner in New Jersey, wouldn't dream of giving up his business. "We have fun all day long," he says. "I'd be bored to tears if I didn't work."

The Gender Gap

Sixty-one percent of male workers say that they would continue to work despite a lottery win, compared with 48% of female workers. Although women have made great strides in the workplace, they still earn 80% of what men do, according to the 2000 U.S. Census. But salary issues aside, women may be more torn than men are between work and spending time with their families. Women are more likely than men to be single parents, for whom working outside the home is extremely difficult. Women may also have other goals in life that are more important to them than success in the workplace, a goal more likely to be associated with men.

Most Would Keep Same Job

The nation's employers will be pleased that of the employees who would continue working if they won the lottery, 65% would stay in their current jobs, while slightly more than a third (35%) would seek different jobs**.

Penny Nicoll is among the minority who would continue working but choose another job. "Not only do I want to give something back to the community," says the 40-year-old corporate editor from Pittsburgh, "but I've worked all my life and it's an important part of my identity." Nicoll would quit her current job and train full time to become a nurse. "Then I would volunteer part time at a free clinic close to home."

Bottom Line

Just what would people do with all that cash? Vance says he would spread the wealth around to his friends and family so "they could enjoy the good life and have fun right along with me." Wyatt's dream is a bit more pragmatic. "I would invest enough money for the kids' education, give plenty away to my family members, and take six-week vacations as often as I pleased."

Nicoll offers the response of a genuine altruist: "My needs are modest," she says. "I would keep just enough to feel secure and give the rest away to people who needed it."  Then she pauses. "Well," she reflects, "maybe not all of it. I've always wanted a condo in Manhattan."

*Results are based on telephone interviews with 580 national adults, aged 18 and older, employed full or part time, conducted Aug. 9-11, 2004. For results based on this sample, one can say with 95% confidence that the margin of sampling error is ±4 percentage points.

**Results based on telephone interviews with 313 employed Americans who would continue to work if they won the lottery, conducted Aug. 9-11, 2004. For results based on this sample, the margin of sampling error is ±6 percentage points.

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