See A. Lusardi and O. Mitchell, "Planning and Financial Literacy: How Do Women Fare?" NBER Working Paper No. , January 2008, and American Economic Review 98(2), 2008, pp. 413-17.
See the review and discussion of these questions in A. Lusardi, "Financial Literacy: An Essential Tool for Informed Consumer Choice?" NBER Working Paper No. , June 2008.
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Bernheim, Douglas D. 1998. "Financial Illiteracy, Education, and Retirement Saving". In Living with Defined Contribution Pension Systems, edited by Olivia Mitchell and Sylvester Schieber. Philadelphia: University of Philadelphia Press.
See A. Lusardi and O. Mitchell, "Baby Boomer Retirement Security: the Roles of Planning, Financial Literacy and Housing Wealth," NBER Working Paper No. , October 2006, and Journal of Monetary Economics 54, 2007, pp. 205-24.
In the debt literacy paper, I demonstrated that debt literacy can be linked to a variety of financial experiences, from borrowing on credit cards to using payday lending or pawn shops, to investing in stocks and mutual funds, or simply having a checking account. That paper emphasizes the fact that individuals make many financial decisions and that those decisions are highly interrelated. For example, those who always pay credit card bills in full are less likely to use other high-cost means of borrowing, such as payday loans. Conversely, those who only pay the minimum amount due on their credit cards are more likely to use other costly forms of borrowing. This means that financial literacy can have an effect above and beyond the single financial decisionmaking variable -- for example, wealth accumulation, participation in the stock market, having a checking account - which we normally study when assessing the impact of financial literacy on behavior. Thus, to fully capture the effect of literacy on financial behavior, it is important to look at a rich set of financial experiences.
Having shown that financial literacy is very low and that it affects financial behavior, we naturally arrive at the question of what can be done to raise financial knowledge and which programs can influence saving and wealth accumulation. This is the topic I pursued in my newly published book, (University of Chicago Press, 2008). There are two ideal venues for the delivery of financial education: schools and the workplace. The book provides an overview of financial knowledge among high school students and shows that it is not only the adult population but also the young who lack basic financial knowledge. Given the benefits that financial literacy brings, there may be advantages to introducing financial literacy into high school curricula. The book also offers an evaluation of employer-provided financial education programs. The evidence, so far, is mixed, but as the book argues, we cannot necessarily learn much from existing programs. Workplace programs commonly offer very limited interventions, such as a one-time retirement seminar or one benefit fair. It is hard to imagine that such interventions can do much to combat widespread financial illiteracy; a one-time, one-size-fits-all seminar can hardly be an adequate response to the problem of widespread financial illiteracy among U.S. workers. The book provides evidence that programs that offer multiple financial education sessions have been effective in stimulating saving among low-income workers, who are normally those least likely to save. It also shows that women are particularly receptive to financial education programs. Given that women tend to display low levels of literacy, these findings suggest that targeted education programs can raise financial literacy among the population groups that are most in need of improved financial literacy.
Lusardi, Annamaria and Olivia Mitchell. 2006. "Financial Literacy and Planning: Implications for Retirement Wellbeing", Pension Research Council Working Paper 2006-1, The Wharton School, University of Pennslyvannia, Philadelpia, PA. Found online at:
To be able to disentangle this nexus of causality, we re-examined the link between financial literacy and planning. In another paper using data from the Rand American Life Panel, a survey in which we inserted the same questions that we designed for the HRS, we use the fact that several U.S. states mandated financial literacy education in high school to measure respondents' exogenous exposure to financial education. The decision to mandate financial education is mostly the result of a political process. Moreover, states differed in what they mandated and the year the mandate went into effect. We also considered the amount of resources that were devoted to education across states, because mandates can be ineffective if few resources are allocated to training teachers and implementing new courses. We found that individuals who were born in states that mandated financial education in high school were more likely to display higher financial knowledge later in life. Moreover, respondents who received their education in states that not only mandated financial education but also had higher per pupil education spending had higher levels of financial knowledge. Most importantly, after instrumenting financial literacy with mandates across states, interacted with the amount of education expenses per pupil, we found a strong positive relationship between financial literacy and retirement planning, even stronger than the simple estimates based on HRS data. This finding is consistent with another important paper in this area of research: Bernheim, Garrett, and Maki (2001) showed that individuals who were exposed to financial education in high school had higher savings later in life. Given that retirement planning is a powerful proxy for wealth, there is now a body of evidence supporting the effects of financial literacy on wealth holdings.
See A. Lusardi and O. Mitchell, "How Ordinary Consumers Make Complex Economic Decisions: Financial Literacy and Retirement Readiness," unpublished paper, March 2009.