How Financial Literacy and Impatience Shape Retirement Wealth and Investment Behaviors

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Wharton Pension Research Council Working Papers
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Behavioral Economics
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Two competing explanations for why consumers have trouble with financial decisions are gaining momentum. One is that people are financially illiterate since they lack understanding of simple economic concepts and cannot carry out computations such as computing compound interest, which could cause them to make suboptimal financial decisions. A second is that impatience or present-bias might explain suboptimal financial decisions. That is, some people persistently choose immediate gratification instead of taking advantage of larger long-term payoffs. We use experimental evidence from Chile to explore how these factors appear related to poor financial decisions. Our results show that our measure of impatience is a strong predictor of wealth and investment in health. Financial literacy is also correlated with wealth though it appears to be a weaker predictor of sensitivity to framing in investment decisions. Policymakers interested in enhancing retirement wellbeing would do well to consider the importance of both factors.

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This research is part of the NBER programs on Aging and Labor Economics, and it was supported by a grant from the US Social Security Administration (SSA) to the Michigan Retirement Research Center (MRRC). Funding was also provided by the TIAA-CREF Institute, the Boettner Center/Pension Research Council at The Wharton School, the Yale Institution for Social and Policy Studies, and NIH/NIA grant AG023774-01, NIH/NIA Grant # P30 AG12836, and NIH/NICHC Population Research Infrastructure Program R24 HD-044964, all at the University of Pennsylvania.
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