June 2020

IZA DP No. 13349: Culture and Adult Financial Literacy: Evidence from the United States

forthcoming in: Economics of Education Review

Using a US nationally representative sample of over 6,000 adults from 26 countries of ancestry, we find a strong association between their financial literacy in the US and the financial literacy level in their self-reported country of ancestry. More specifically, if an individual from a country of ancestry with "average" financial literacy had instead come from a country with financial literacy one-standard deviation above the mean, his or her likelihood of answering correctly basic financial literacy questions regarding inflation, risk diversification, and interest rate in the US would have increased by 4 percentage points, a 9% increase relative to the average financial literacy in our sample of 43%. The cultural components behind this observed association include a strong emphasis on patience, long-term orientation and risk-aversion in the country of ancestry. We also find that the association is driven by financial literacy on risk diversification and interest compounding.