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The Geography of Financial Literacy

  • Christopher B. Bumcrot
  • Judy Lin
  • Annamaria Lusardi

This report explores how well equipped today's households are to make complex financial decisions in the face of often high-cost and high-risk financial instruments. Specifically it focuses on financial literacy. Most importantly, it describes the geography of financial literacy, i.e., how financial literacy is distributed across the fifty US states. It describes the correlation of financial literacy and some important aggregate variables, such as state-level poverty rates. Finally, it examines how much differences in financial literacy can be explained by states' demographic and economic characteristics. To assess financial literacy, five questions were added to the 2009 Financial Capability Study, covering fundamental concepts of economics and finance encountered in everyday life: simple calculations about interest rates and inflation, the workings of risk diversification, the relationship between bond prices and interest rates, and the relationship between interest payments and maturity in mortgages. An index of financial literacy was constructed based on the number of correct answers provided by each respondent to the five financial literacy questions. The financial literacy index reveals wide variation in financial literacy across states. Much of the variation is attributable to differences in the demographic make-up of the states; however, a handful of states have either higher or lower levels of financial literacy than is explained by demographics alone. Also, there is a significant correlation between the financial literacy of a state and that state's poverty level. The findings indicate directions for policy makers and practitioners interested in targeting areas where financial literacy is low.

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Paper provided by RAND Corporation Publications Department in its series Working Papers with number 893.

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Length: 17 pages
Date of creation: Nov 2011
Date of revision:
Handle: RePEc:ran:wpaper:893
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  1. Klapper, Leora & Panos, Georgios A., 2011. "Financial literacy and retirement planning: the Russian case," Journal of Pension Economics and Finance, Cambridge University Press, vol. 10(04), pages 599-618, October.
  2. Annamaria Lusardi & Olivia S. Mitchell, 2008. "Planning and Financial Literacy: How Do Women Fare?," CeRP Working Papers 72, Center for Research on Pensions and Welfare Policies, Turin (Italy).
  3. Lusardi, Annamaria & Tufano, Peter, 2009. "Debt literacy, financial experiences, and overindebtedness," CFS Working Paper Series 2009/08, Center for Financial Studies (CFS).
  4. Maarten van Rooij & Annamaria Lusardi & Rob Alessie, 2011. "Financial Literacy, Retirement Planning, and Household Wealth," DNB Working Papers 313, Netherlands Central Bank, Research Department.
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  9. Annamaria Lusardi, 2010. "Financial Capability in the United States: Consumer Decision-Making and the Role of Social Security," Working Papers wp226, University of Michigan, Michigan Retirement Research Center.
  10. Bernheim, B. Douglas & Garrett, Daniel M., 2003. "The effects of financial education in the workplace: evidence from a survey of households," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 87(7-8), pages 1487-1519, August.
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  12. Esther Duflo & Emmanuel Saez, 2003. "The Role Of Information And Social Interactions In Retirement Plan Decisions: Evidence From A Randomized Experiment," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, MIT Press, vol. 118(3), pages 815-842, August.
  13. Christelis, Dimitris & Jappelli, Tullio & Padula, Mario, 2006. "Cognitive Abilities and Portfolio Choice," CEPR Discussion Papers 5735, C.E.P.R. Discussion Papers.
  14. Justine S. Hastings & Lydia Tejeda-Ashton, 2008. "Financial Literacy, Information, and Demand Elasticity: Survey and Experimental Evidence from Mexico," NBER Working Papers 14538, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  15. Annamaria Lusardi & Olivia S. Mitchell, 2009. "How Ordinary Consumers Make Complex Economic Decisions: Financial Literacy and Retirement Readiness," NBER Working Papers 15350, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  16. Jere R. Behrman & Olivia S. Mitchell & Cindy Soo & David Bravo, 2010. "Financial Literacy, Schooling, and Wealth Accumulation," NBER Working Papers 16452, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  17. Justine Hastings & Olivia S. Mitchell, 2010. "How Financial Literacy and Impatience Shape Retirement Wealth and Investment Behaviors," Working Papers wp233, University of Michigan, Michigan Retirement Research Center.
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