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What happens to the average lottery winner?

Winning the lottery is a dream for many people. The chance to win millions of dollars instantly is alluring. However, the reality of becoming a lottery winner is often much more complex. Studies have shown that winning a large jackpot can dramatically change a person’s life, and not always for the better. In this article, we will explore what typically happens to the average lottery winner through examining statistics, psychology research, and real-life examples.

What are the odds of winning the lottery?

The odds of winning the lottery jackpot are extremely low. For example, the odds of winning the Mega Millions jackpot are 1 in 302,575,350. The odds of winning Powerball are 1 in 292,201,338. Even state lotteries have long odds. The odds of winning the California SuperLotto Plus jackpot are 1 in 41,416,353.

With odds like this, it’s no surprise that most people never win the lottery jackpot. Even for those few who do win, it’s rarely through skill but rather sheer dumb luck. This means most lottery winners are simply average people who happen to have a lucky break.

How much does the average person win?

While we often hear about jackpots in the hundreds of millions, the reality is most lottery winnings are much more modest. In 2015, MarketWatch analyzed 11 big lottery games and found:

– The average jackpot was $157 million
– The average winner took home $112 million after taxes
– After splitting with co-workers and family, the average prize came to $4.3 million

Still a life-changing amount of money, but a far cry from the nine and ten figure jackpots that make headlines.

Even matching some of the numbers to win smaller prizes rarely adds up to a fortune. According to lottery data specialist Richard Wheeler, the average American spends $223 per year on lottery tickets. Even for those who play regularly, winnings seldom surpass costs over a lifetime.

Do lottery winners quit their jobs?

Winning millions instantly makes quitting your job seem tempting. Yet the reality is, the majority of lottery winners keep working. A study published in Health Economics followed lottery winners in the UK and found:

– Only about 1/3 had quit their job within 3 years
– Winners with higher paying jobs beforehand were less likely to quit
– The researchers estimated about 1/2 continued working in some capacity over time

There are several reasons lottery winners continue working:

– They enjoy their occupation and coworkers
– Work provides a sense of purpose and keeps them active
– They don’t want to lose skillsets through being unemployed
– Extra income on top of lottery winnings
– Don’t want to draw attention to lottery win

Many winners take a compromise approach, such as going part time or retiring later. However, outright quitting work right away is surprisingly uncommon.

Do lottery winners end up broke?

There is a common myth that lottery winners will squander their prize and end up broke within a few years. The evidence suggests this stereotype is greatly exaggerated.

– A study in Sweden found that 5 years later, lottery winners had a net worth that was 2.6 times higher on average compared to before winning.
– In Florida, lottery winners’ financial status was checked an average of 9 years after winning. The vast majority still had substantial net worth from their prize.
– A study by the National Endowment for Financial Education estimated that only about 30% of lottery winners go bankrupt within 5 years. Meaning 70% retain money.

That said, statistics do show winners face elevated bankruptcy risks compared to the general population. Some reasons winners get into financial trouble include:

– Overspending and giving away too much money to friends/family
– Risky luxury purchases like mansions and sports cars
– Falling victim to financial scammers and fraud
– Failing to plan for tax obligations on winnings

While not inevitable, lottery winners do need to manage their money wisely to sustain it long-term. Seeking professional financial advice is recommended.

Are lottery winners happier?

You might assume winning the lottery would make people much happier. But research on lottery winners’ satisfaction and well-being reveals a more complicated picture:

– Multiple studies have found no difference in general life satisfaction between lottery winners and the average person. One study even found a decline in happiness a few years after winning.
– Winners do report more happiness around the event itself and in the first months after. But this boost appears temporary.
– There are some indications of increased loneliness, isolation, and dissatisfaction among major winners.
– Personality seems key: Winners who were already content show sustained happiness, while dissatisfied people stay that way.

In summary, winning the lottery may provide a short-term joy boost but is unlikely to change lifelong happiness levels. This suggests money is not as critical to life satisfaction as our culture sometimes implies.

Do lottery winners get divorced more often?

You’ll occasionally hear warnings that winning the lottery will doom your marriage. But is this really true? The evidence is mixed:

– A study of 1,525 lottery winners found that they were no more likely to get divorced than the average couple.
– British researchers found divorce rates among winners were slightly lower than the general population.
– However, there are documented cases of couples divorcing after winning the lottery. Sources of marital stress can include disputes over money and new financial independence.

Overall, existing data points to lottery winnings not necessarily harming marriages. That said, any major life event can strain a relationship. Couples should discuss money changes openly and seek counseling if needed.

Are winners more likely to use drugs and alcohol?

Sudden wealth brings fears that winners will engage in reckless behavior like substance abuse. But research doesn’t seem to bear that assumption out:

– A study by the National Endowment for Financial Education showed bankruptcies and substance abuse among lottery winners was rare. Just 5% reported having a gambling, alcohol, or drug addiction issue.
– In surveys, most lottery winners report no change in alcohol or tobacco consumption after winning compared to before.
– That said, isolated cases of winners developing drug and gambling problems exist. Financial education advocates recommend caution.

In general, there’s little evidence of widespread substance abuse among lottery winners. But avoiding destructive behaviors and getting help if needed is wise advice for any huge influx of wealth.

Do winners tend to be more generous?

Winning millions provides the opportunity to donate large sums to charity and help others. Studies show that many (though not all) winners become more generous after their windfall:

– Approximately 1/3 of major lottery winners in one survey reported giving away more than 50% of their winnings. About 17% gave away over 90% to charity.
– Lottery winners donate more to charities and causes than the average American household overall.
– Significant numbers use their prize to benefit family and friends through gifts, paying off debts, college funds, etc.
– Increased generosity is linked to long-term life satisfaction for winners.

That said, not all winners become philanthropists. Those inclined to give generously before winning tend to exhibit the same habits after. Frugal people may continue hoarding wealth.

Impacts on Health and Lifestyle

Beyond just finances, winning the lottery can influence other aspects of a winner’s life and well-being. Let’s explore some common impacts.

Do lottery winners gain weight?

There are worries that coming into money enables self-indulgence and unhealthy habits. But studies on lottery winners don’t show obvious negative health effects:

– A study examining winners 2 years after hitting a jackpot found no significant weight gain compared to other locals their age.
– Swedish lottery winners displayed no change in food spending or diet quality compared to before winning.
– Evidence suggests otherwise average people don’t suddenly adopt extravagant lifestyles. Most winners make relatively modest life changes.

That said, increased risks for weight gain exist if winners quit jobs, become inactive, and overindulge constantly. Moderation and self-control is still important.

Are winners targets for crime and lawsuits?

Privacy concerns lead many lottery winners to try keeping their win quiet. But high-profile jackpot reports can make that difficult. Unfortunately, publicity also brings increased risks:

– Lottery winners face elevated risks of being targeted in lawsuits, often frivolous ones. People see them as having deep pockets.
– Winners receive more attention from scammers and fraudulent investment pitches.
– Home and vehicle burglaries and thefts rise. Criminals target visible signs of wealth.
– Family members and friends may ask for constant handouts and loans.
– Kidnapping and extortion are rare but real threats for famous winners and their family.

To reduce risks, experts advise lottery winners maintain a low profile, hire security, protect identities with trusts, and politely refuse excessive requests.

Do winners move to new neighborhoods?

You might expect all lottery winners to immediately pack up and move to luxury neighborhoods. But again, the reality is more nuanced:

– Studies show only about 1/4 of major lottery winners change their residence after winning. Most choose to stay put.
– Winners who do move typically relocate to more affluent neighborhoods nearby. Dramatic cross-country moves are less common.
– Downsizing is also reported by some winners, particularly elderly ones who opt for more manageable condos and assisted living.
– Staying connected to friends and community is often cited as motivation for not moving far away.

There seems to be a “comfort zone” factor where winners make modest upgrades but don’t want complete upheaval. Plus, moving is a major hassle even for the wealthy.

Do winners increase political and charitable activism?

Coming into wealth opens up more time and resources to pursue social causes. Research indicates many lottery winners do become more civically engaged:

– In one survey, around half of major winners reported contributing more time and money toward political and non-profit causes.
– Increased charitable activity correlates to life satisfaction for winners. It provides a sense of purpose.
– Among the general public, wealthier Americans volunteer and donate more compared to lower-income households. This suggests winners follow that pattern.
– That said, winners focused solely on lavish living report lower civic involvement. Personality drives behavior more than sudden wealth alone.

In general, lottery windfalls enable winners who are so inclined to deepen community and political ties. But wealth by itself does not automatically trigger increased engagement.

Psychology of Lottery Winners

Let’s explore the psychological aspects of winning the lottery. How does it impact mental health, outlook, and personality?

Do lottery winners struggle with depression?

You might think instant wealth would make depression a thing of the past. But a number of studies reveal more complex mental health impacts:

– One study found that 1-5 years after winning, lottery winners showed higher rates of depression and anxiety versus the general public.
– British researchers found winners had no mental health improvements compared to non-winners. Financial security did not influence happiness.
– Personality seems key. Those prone to depression before winning don’t suddenly become happier after.

Experts theorize depression risks stem from winners having less motivation and purpose. Isolation and relationship conflicts may also contribute. Counseling helps manage mental health.

Does winning change basic personality?

We tend to assume coming into extreme wealth will change who we are. But research indicates lottery winnings don’t necessarily alter personality or values:

– Multiple studies have found minimal long-term changes in winners’ personalities overall after receiving millions.
– Core values and identities tend to stay stable over time. For example, introverts stay introverted.
– Winners do report feeling increased freedom and willingness to take risks. But dramatic personality shifts are uncommon.
– Older winners generally show less change in outlook than younger ones. Crystallized identities are harder to alter.

In essence, lottery wealth allows people to better follow innate personalities rather than transforming who they are inside.

Do winners feel increased purpose in life?

Some imagine winning the lottery means having no responsibilities and obligations. But studies show having purpose and meaning actually increases life satisfaction:

– Lottery winners who reported feeling “useless” after retiring from work were less happy than winners who maintained purpose.
– Increased charitable and community activity gives many winners’ lives more significance. It makes sudden wealth feel worthwhile.
– Work also provides meaning. Winners who quit jobs entirely can feel adrift, while those sticking to careers maintain purpose.
– Family can provide a sense of meaning as well. Raising children helps winners avoid feeling aimless.

Overall, a sense of accomplishment and active engagement seem vital to winners’ well-being. Wealth alone is not enough.

Advice for Lottery Winners

Let’s conclude by summarizing some top pieces of advice for navigating a lottery jackpot based on experts’ recommendations and studies of past winners.

Remain disciplined and live within your means

Sudden wealth can tempt people to overspend wildly. But sticking to a reasonable budget, limiting luxuries, and saving/investing helps ensure stability. Don’t overextend with lavish houses, cars, vacations, etc.

Maintain career skills and keep working if possible

Total idleness can lead to boredom and loss of purpose. Staying employed, freelancing in your field, or learning new skills provides meaning and keeps your mind sharp.

Keep winnings confidential from acquaintances

Spreading word of your millions leads to endless handout requests and scammers targeting you. Discretion helps maintain your privacy and sanity.

Don’t overly indulge friends and family

It’s wise to help loved ones in need, but don’t become an ATM for endless demands. Set limits and have them sign agreements for major gifts like houses to avoid misunderstandings.

Invest conservatively and seek professional advice

Splurging on high-risk investments has ruined many winners. Consult investment advisors and the lottery for safe options like treasuries and annuities.


Winning the lottery jackpot can certainly change a person’s life enormously. But research suggests it rarely leads to wild indulgence and disastrous outcomes. Most winners continue living relatively normal existences, just with more financial comfort and occasional luxuries. Personality and values tend to stay constant after millions suddenly arrive. That said, winners should exercise caution and smart money management to ensure their prize benefits them for life. With prudence and purpose, sudden wealth can be handled responsibly.