Olivia Mitchell: Helping Women Improve Their Financial Literacy—Top Women Extended Profile

Wharton professor, researcher and mentor tells AdvisorOne that her focus is on the next generation.

Dr. Olivia Mitchell of the Wharton School is into retirement. In a big way. Not only that, lately she has been focusing on women and retirement—an area rife with problems. Lack of financial literacy and failure to plan for retirement are just two of the issues most women have that handicap them in their financial lives.

Not so Mitchell. Her expertise extends broadly throughout finance, not only retirement. And she wants to help prepare the next generation of students and others to be more financially secure. 

On the subjects of financial literacy and retirement, she says that people in general are far less financially literate than they think they are. And women lag behind men not just in understanding more complex financial concepts, but also simpler ones.

“The big picture is that most Americans don’t plan for retirement.… We’ve done a number of studies on financial literacy—how well people understand basic economic concepts. Women are generally less financially literate.… People don’t get [longevity expectations] right either!” Mitchell says. 

And that’s a problem Mitchell sees as a crucial one to address. "Along numerous fronts, we conclude that financial literacy and education are a very high priority for women,” she says. “They live longer, and are more likely to be widowed and left alone in retirement without having made financial provisions during their lifetime. I’m hopeful that the next generation will be a little more savvy....”

Mitchell has a career marked by varying experiences to draw from as she helps others. She holds the titles of International Foundation of Employee Benefit Plans professor, department chair and professor of insurance and risk management, executive director of the Pension Research Council, and director of the Boettner Center for Pensions and Retirement Research atthe Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania. 

She has also consulted with the Federal Reserve, Social Security Administration, the Government Accountability Office,the Treasury Dept., World Bank and the Japanese government. Presently she is serving as research associate at the

National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER) and a co-investigator for the Health and Retirement Study at the University of Michigan. 

She took her B.A. in economics magna cum laude from Harvard University in 197. She has authored and coauthored books, articles, and studies too numerous to mention and holds honorary degrees from the University of Pennsylvania and the University of St. Gallen.

She has traveled and taught in many places, including Italy, Pakistan, Australia, Asia and Europe. Helping achieve her goal of ensuring people are secure financially, she served on the bipartisan Commission to Strengthen Social Security in 2001, as well as on the US Department of Labor’s ERISA Advisory Council.

Mitchell’s goal is to help the next generation not only through her research, but also by mentoring doctoral students, which is a regular part of her work as well. 

If they follow her example, there’s hope yet for those who come after us.

See the lead news article on the 2011 50 Top Women in Wealth.

See the article on the process for choosing the 2011 50 Top Women in Wealth.

See the 2010 50 Top Women in Wealth.

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