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> Posted by Emma Morse, Project Specialist, CFI

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Mavis Wanczyk, a staff member at Mercy Medical Center in Springfield, Massachusetts and a mother of two, recently became a multi-millionaire, revealing herself as the $758.7 million Powerball jackpot winner – the largest individual winner ever. Wanczyk quit her job of 32 years less than 24 hours later.

Reflecting on her decision, Wanczyk remarks, “I was just there to buy it, for just luck. Just go in, buy a scratch ticket, and say maybe it’s me, maybe it won’t be me. It’s just a chance, a chance I had to take.”

The odds of winning the Powerball jackpot are 1 in over 292 million. In order to purchase all of the possible combinations, an individual would need to spend $584,402,676 on tickets. You are about 100,000 times more likely to be struck by lightning at some point in your lifetime than you are to hit this particular jackpot.

So why do Americans spend $70.15 billion on lottery tickets annually, while very few of us live in fear of being struck by lightning? Read the rest of this entry »

> Posted by ideas42

The following post was originally published on the ideas42 blog.

It’s simply a fact that many products, policies, and services created specifically to benefit everyday people are either under-used or not used at all. Whether it’s helpful savings tools, financial aid for education, or comprehensive health insurance plans, many of us simply never enroll or use them despite intending to do so. So what’s going on?

One major factor is that most of these underutilized programs have been designed according to a “traditional” view of human behavior, in which designers assume that we always take the time to consider all of our options, choose what’s rationally the best option for us, and then act on it.

Behavioral science, however, breaks from this traditional model. We find that in reality, we don’t always carefully compare our options, if we even think about them at all. Likewise, if we do make a good choice, we may not necessarily follow through on it. So in order for solutions to be truly effective, they must be designed for how people really are, rather than how we imagine they should be.

This was one of the main things ideas42 kept in mind when approaching the problem of low retirement contribution rates in Mexico. Regular readers of our blog may remember that under the current pension system, Mexican workers stand to retire on just 40 percent of their current salary, unless they make additional individual contributions—yet the overwhelming majority of Mexicans aren’t taking these crucial steps to improve their savings.

Read the rest of this entry »

> Posted by María José Roa Garcia, Researcher, Centro de Estudios Monetarios Latinoamericanos (CEMLA)

In the past decade, a group of key empirical studies have argued that a lack of education and financial knowledge can lead individuals to miss opportunities to benefit from financial services. Some may fail to save enough for retirement, others may over-invest in risky assets, while still others miss out on tax advantages, fail to refinance costly mortgages, or even remain outside of the formal financial sector completely. These studies suggest that such behavior is based on the reality that making financial decisions has become increasingly complicated. At the same time, as a result of sweeping changes in the economic and demographic environments, individuals have become increasingly responsible for their own financial decisions and the consequences of such decisions over the long-term. Changes in public pension plans, an increase in life expectancy, and an increase in the cost of health insurance have placed on the individual the weight of momentous decisions such as whether to take out private retirement insurance, or how much to save. Easier access to credit, a general increase in the accessibility and complexity of products and services, and a number of other factors make a range of financial decisions more consequential – and harder.

Governments, financial services providers, and related stakeholders have responded accordingly in recent years developing financial education programs and initiatives, but the results have been mixed. The bulk of the evidence available confirms that, in general, the level of financial literacy throughout the world is very low, especially among the more vulnerable groups: those with very low education or income such as senior citizens, young women, and immigrants. The lack of financial literacy within these groups has proven to extend beyond economic effects and produce negative consequences on health, general well-being, and life satisfaction. Many of the programs that have been introduced were part of empirical studies that evaluated the impact of financial education programs on subsequent financial behavior. There are many such studies that show that financial education improves financial decision-making.

Nevertheless, a body of work has opened an intense debate over whether financial education and information can truly affect the financial behavior of individuals (see here, and here). In many cases, despite the availability of financial education, persistently high rates of debt and default, and low rates of saving and financial planning for retirement have been shown to persist. The empirical evidence obtained from surveys and experimental work often shows that individuals pay little attention to the information and that their capacity to process it is limited. Most of the empirical literature to-date indicates that traditional financial education – clients receiving information in a classroom style setting or through printed materials – does not necessarily translate into behavioral changes, especially in the short-term.

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