Financial Literacy Around the World: An Overview

by Annamaria Lusardi and Olivia S. Mitchell; CeRP WP N. 106/11

The paper has been realized for the Netspar Theme grant project  Financial Literacy: Evidence and Implications for Retirement Planning, Saving Behavior, and Financial Education Programs”.


In an increasingly risky and globalized marketplace, people must be able to make well-informed financial decisions. Yet new international research demonstrates that financial illiteracy is widespread when financial markets are well developed as in Germany, the Netherlands, Sweden, Japan, Italy, New Zealand, and the United States, or when they are changing rapidly as in Russia. Further, across these countries, we show that the older population believes itself well informed, even though it is actually less well informed than average. Other common patterns are also evident: women are less financially literate than men and are aware of this shortfall. More educated people are more informed, yet education is far from a perfect proxy for literacy. There are also ethnic/racial and regional differences: city-dwellers in Russia are better informed than their rural counterparts, while in the U.S., African Americans and Hispanics are relatively less literate than others. Moreover, the more financially literate are also those most likely to plan for retirement. In fact, answering one additional financial question correctly is associated with a 3-4 percentage point higher chance of planning for retirement in countries as diverse as Germany, the U.S., Japan, and Sweden; in the Netherlands, it boosts planning by 10 percentage points. Finally, using instrumental variables, we show that these estimates probably underestimate the effects of financial literacy on retirement planning. In sum, around the world, financial literacy is critical to retirement security.

Published: March 2011

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