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If You Won the Mega Millions Lottery, Would You Quit?

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The overwhelming majority of people say they'd keep working, but we all know they're lying.

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Last night, somebody became $636 million richer, thanks to the multistate Mega Millions lottery. (Actually, two tickets were sold -- one in California, one in Georgia. And more than one person could have chipped in for the tickets. But let's keep this simple, okay?)

The winners will split the jackpot, and can choose either a 30-year payout or a lump sum, which would amount to half each of an estimated $341 million.

Ask anyone on the casino floor at the Mirage (NYSE:WYNN) or the Venetian (NYSE:LVS), and they'll all likely say the same thing: Win big, and never work again. It's a fantasy that every lottery player has, and most people probably think it holds true across the population. But a recent Gallup poll says otherwise, claiming two-thirds of American workers say they would continue working "even if they won $10 million in the lottery." (Thirty-one percent say they'd be outta there.)

"This desire to keep working after enjoying a financial windfall is higher today than in three earlier Gallup measures, all prior to the 2008-2009 recession," the company said after releasing the results of their Work & Education survey in August. "In each of the three previous times Gallup asked this lottery question, the percentage saying they would quit after winning $10 million ranged from 39% to 44%."

Why do more people today say they'd continue working? Gallup says it is not clear what precipitated this change, but the company offers a few possibilities.

One: "The 2008 recession intervened between the 2005 and 2013 surveys, and it may be that workers today have a renewed appreciation for the value of having a job -- even if they were to become independently wealthy."

Two: "It is also possible that the perceived value of winning $10 million may be less now than in past iterations of the survey as detailed facts about lottery winnings become better known. Given that most big prizes are distributed over multiple years or are reduced if taken as a lump sum, and are heavily taxed, some workers may simply think they still would need to work in order to meet their financial goals, even after winning that amount."

Three: It's also possible that inflation has lessened the perceived value of $10 million.

Four: "Finally, the increase in workers' desire to keep on the job after winning a lottery may also reflect an increase in workers' sense of the self-identity and non-financial rewards they gain from their employment."

A 1987 study by H. Roy Kaplan, Ph.D., "Lottery Winners: The Myth and Reality," provides a bit of nuance to this, finding that "individuals with psychologically and financially rewarding jobs continued working regardless of the amount they won, while people who worked in low-paying semi-skilled and unskilled jobs were far more likely to quit the labor force."

A Swedish study says that "lottery winners have often been found to be eager to preserve their previous identity and remain socially within the boundaries of what in their environment is considered 'normal.'" To this end, only 12% of people surveyed said they'd quit their jobs outright, preferring to enjoy their newfound financial security by taking "unpaid full-time leave and [reducing] working hours."

Of course, these surveys are all theoretical. If any of the respondents had actually come into hundreds of millions of dollars the night before, they wouldn't be talking to researchers.

They'd be on the phone with their boss, quitting.
No positions in stocks mentioned.

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