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Understanding Pensions: Cognitive Function, Numerical Ability and Retirement Saving


  • James Banks
  • Zoe Oldfield


In a world of declining state pension provision, it is becoming increasingly important that individuals are able to understand the financial choices they face and can choose savings products, portfolios and contribution rates accordingly. In this paper, we look at numerical ability and other dimensions of cognitive function in a sample of older adults in England and examine the extent to which these abilities are correlated with various measures of wealth and retirement saving outcomes. As well as finding that relatively large fractions of the older population can be seen to have low levels of numeracy, we show that numeracy levels are strongly correlated with measures of retirement saving and investment portfolios, even when controlling for other dimensions of cognitive ability as well as educational attainment. Numeracy is also related to knowledge and understanding of pension arrangements, and with perceived financial security. In the short run, there may be a role for targeting simple retirement planning information at low-numeracy, low-education groups; a longer-run goal for retirement saving policy might be to improve numeracy levels more generally. Copyright 2007 Institute for Fiscal Studies.

Suggested Citation

  • James Banks & Zoe Oldfield, 2007. "Understanding Pensions: Cognitive Function, Numerical Ability and Retirement Saving," Fiscal Studies, Institute for Fiscal Studies, vol. 28(2), pages 143-170, June.
  • Handle: RePEc:ifs:fistud:v:28:y:2007:i:2:p:143-170

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