Adults still lack personal financial knowledge, a problem that could be addressed by better financial education in schools and by employers wanting to help employees have a more sound financial future.
That’s according to findings from a study by TIAA Institute and the Global Financial Literacy Excellence Center, which found that just 16% of Americans have a high level of personal finance knowledge and understanding, compared with 20% who had a low level of personal financial literacy.
As part of the study, more than 1,000 adults over the age of 18 answered a series of questions in eight personal finance categories — earning, consuming, saving, investing, borrowing/managing debt, insuring, comprehending risk and go-to information sources — to give researchers a closer look at how different age groups and genders handle personal finances.
It found that personal financial knowledge is lowest when it comes to comprehending risk, which is “troubling given that uncertainty is a common feature of financial decision-making,” the report said. “Future conditions are simply unknown, thus, comprehending risk and its implications is integral to making appropriate decisions.”
The study also found that people know a lot more about debt and debt management, which is a fact that employers “need to pay attention to because it is one of the common features of household balance sheets today,” says Annamaria Lusardi, founder and academic director for the Global Financial Literacy Excellence Center.
The survey results found out how little people know about personal finances and how little and slowly that knowledge increases with age, she adds.
“Up to age 40, people made some of the most fundamental financial decisions, yet when it comes to personal finance, they are operating on a low basis of knowledge,” Lusardi says. “That is a result that is quite strong and striking out of our findings.”
The difference between genders was also striking. On day-to-day financial decisions, women had the same level of expertise as men but there continued to be a large gap between the two when it came to higher level financial knowledge.
Thirty percent of adults 18 to 44 had a relatively low level of financial literacy and only 10% of that age demographic had a high level of financial literacy. Twenty-one percent of those over the age of 45 had a higher level of financial literacy and only 12% had a low level of personal finance knowledge.
“Early on in life, people are making consequential decisions with immediate consequences as well as long-term ramifications decades down the road,” says Paul Yakoboski, senior economist with TIAA Institute. “This gap really matters a lot.”
These responses show that financial literacy does increase with age, however slowly, the report stated. In all eight categories of personal finance, Generation X and baby boomers showed the most knowledge. Knowledge of personal finances also increases with household income, with those with incomes of $100,000 or more likely to have a relatively high knowledge level and those with less than $25,000 in household income having a low level of personal finance knowledge.
“Especially among younger people, when financial literacy is higher, they are more likely to be current with credit card payments and loan payments. In the aggregate, overall, the data really highlights the gaps between knowledge that exists and the level which would enable sound financial decision-making in the course of everyday life,” Yakoboski says.
The Global Financial Literacy Excellence Center has done extensive research in the area of workplace financial education and just how vital it is.
“I think it is critically important for employers to provide workplace financial education and workplace financial wellness,” Lusardi says. “There is a business case to do this. This is not charity to do good things; it’s important because adding financial education contributes to the productivity and well-being of those employees.”
She adds that employers have made strides in the types of financial education they offer employees, branching out from retirement efforts to helping workers pay off their student loans, manage debt and make other financial decisions that affect their families.
“Certainly the data speaks of the need to have more information, more education,” Lusardi says. “The workplace is an ideal place to do so. After all, half of adults are at work. There are benefits for employers as well.”
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