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Optimal Financial Knowledge and Wealth Inequality

  • Annamaria Lusardi
  • Pierre-Carl Michaud
  • Olivia S. Mitchell

While financial knowledge is strongly positively related to household wealth, there is also considerable cross-sectional variation in both financial knowledge and net asset levels. To explore these patterns, we develop a calibrated stochastic life cycle model featuring endogenous financial knowledge accumulation. The model generates substantial wealth inequality, over and above that of standard life cycle models; this is because higher earners typically have more hump-shaped labor income profiles and lower retirement benefits which, when interacted with precautionary saving motives, boost their need for private wealth accumulation and thus financial knowledge. Our simulations show that endogenous financial knowledge accumulation has the potential to account for a large proportion of wealth inequality. The fraction of the population which is rationally financially "ignorant" depends on the generosity of the retirement system and the level of means-tested benefits. Educational efforts to enhance financial savvy early in the life cycle so as to produce one percentage point excess return per year would be valued highly by people in all educational groups.

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Paper provided by National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc in its series NBER Working Papers with number 18669.

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Date of creation: Jan 2013
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Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:18669
Note: AG EFG PE
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  1. Yoram Ben-Porath, 1967. "The Production of Human Capital and the Life Cycle of Earnings," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 75, pages 352.
  2. John Karl Scholz & Ananth Seshadri & Surachai Khitatrakun, 2006. "Are Americans Saving "Optimally" for Retirement?," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 114(4), pages 607-643, August.
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  10. Lusardi, Annamaria & Mitchell, Olivia S., 2011. "Financial literacy around the world: an overview," Journal of Pension Economics and Finance, Cambridge University Press, vol. 10(04), pages 497-508, October.
  11. Adeline Delavande & Susann Rohwedder & Robert Willis, 2008. "Preparation for Retirement, Financial Literacy and Cognitive Resources," Working Papers wp190, University of Michigan, Michigan Retirement Research Center.
  12. Cagetti, Marco, 2003. "Wealth Accumulation over the Life Cycle and Precautionary Savings," Journal of Business & Economic Statistics, American Statistical Association, vol. 21(3), pages 339-53, July.
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