While the last few decades have made new products more accessible to “small investors,” this puts undue pressure on investors who are “financially unsophisticated” and may have difficulty understand complex products, according to a working paper from the National Bureau of Economic Research.
How numerate are adults when it comes to calculations related to financial decisions? Annamaria Lusardi, author of the paper, “Numeracy, Financial Literacy, and Financial Decision-Making,” asks.
Lusardi, a professor of economics at the George Washington School of Business and a research associate with the NBER, notes in the paper that in addition to access to complicated products, Americans are also being asked to take greater responsibility for their retirement planning rather than relying on Social Security and pensions to support them. While this provides them with the benefits of greater flexibility and mobility, it also exposes them to financial market risks that were “less evident in the old DB system.”
A review of various studies and surveys taken in the United States as well as in other countries shows that not only is literacy low, it is particularly severe among vulnerable groups such as women and the elderly.
For example, a 2007 survey of early baby boomers, those between ages 51 and 56, asked respondents a series of math questions. Over 80% were able to answer a simple percentage calculation, but only half were able to correctly divide five into 2 million. Just 18% were able to successfully determine compound interest on a hypothetical savings account.