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OECD study reveals low financial literacy worldwide

December 2016

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Adults in many countries around the world display low levels of financial knowledge according to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD).

Their December 2016 study, entitled the OECD/INFE International Survey of Adult Financial Literacy Competencies , reveals that besides low levels of knowledge, adults fail to engage in financial behaviors that could result in improved financial security, nor do they have financial attitudes oriented toward the long term.

The study covered some 30 countries and economies from across Africa, Asia, Europe, Australasia, North and South America, and collected data from a total of 51,650 adults aged 18 to 79. The foreword of the study states: “This worldwide exercise is a key achievement for the OECD/INFE, which set the development of a method to measure and compare financial literacy as one of its three initial objectives. These first, high-level results provide information about financial literacy that go far beyond knowledge, covering aspects of financial behavior, attitudes and inclusion. As such, it provides the first opportunity for countries to see how the overall financial literacy of their adult populations compares with others.”

OECD chart
Source: OECD

The scores for overall levels of financial literacy (combining knowledge, attitude, and behavior scores) are relatively low at just 13.2 out of a possible 21, and 13.7 across OECD countries. Average levels of financial knowledge reveal some room for improvement with wide variations between countries.

On average, just 56% of adults achieved a score of at least five out of seven (63% across OECD countries), which is considered the minimum target score. Over four out of every five (84%) adults in Hong Kong were able to answer at least five out of seven questions correctly, yet fewer than one in two adults in Albania, Belarus, Brazil, the British Virgin Islands, Croatia, Jordan, Malaysia, the Russian Federation, South Africa, Thailand, and the United Kingdom were able to achieve the minimum score.

Other highlights include:

  • Gender differences are noteworthy: men are statistically significantly more likely than women to achieve the minimum target score in 19 of the 30 participating countries.
  • The weakest areas of financial behavior are related to budgeting, planning ahead, choosing products, and using independent advice.
  • There is considerable variation in the extent to which people behave in financially literate ways
  • Many people have a tendency toward “short-termism” (living paycheck to paycheck) instead of having a long-term outlook.

This study stresses the need for starting financial education early and, ideally, in the school systems. It also recommends that public authorities improve financial resilience and long-term planning, support smart choices of financial products and generally strengthen knowledge, skills, and behaviors through effective financial education for adults, in combination with appropriate financial regulation, inclusion, and consumer protection policies.


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