A new MoneyRates.com poll finds that financial education in high school may help people feel more comfortable with financial matters later in life. The problem is that the survey also reveals that relatively few Americans -- and especially few women -- have received much financial education.
In the Op4G-conducted poll of 2,000 American adults, the majority said they received little or no financial education in high school. The respondents who received little or no financial education were much less likely to rate themselves as proficient in financial concepts than the respondents who reported receiving more financial education.
The women surveyed reported receiving significantly less financial education than their male counterparts, though the poll results indicate that both sexes benefit from this type of education.
The overlooked subject
Poll participants were asked about how much financial education they received in high school: a lot, some, a little or none. Then they were asked how knowledgeable they are about personal finance as adults, allowing for a comparison between how much instruction they received in high school and how comfortable they are with the subject today.
Here are some of the most notable data points:
- People who received financial education in high school are more likely to be comfortable with financial topics. Sixty-one percent of adults who say they received a lot of personal finance instruction in high school now characterize themselves as fluent in both basic and advanced financial topics. This number drops to 22 percent for people who received only some but not a lot of instruction, and falls even lower for people who received little or no personal finance education (19 percent).
- Nearly two-thirds of those surveyed received little or no financial education in high school. Though financial education in high school appears to have lasting beneficial effects, the hard part seems to be getting access to that education. Sixty-four percent of those surveyed said they received little or no instruction on financial topics in high school.
- Most people think financial education should be offered in school -- or even required. The scarceness of financial education in high school is against the current wishes of most of those surveyed. Sixty-two percent of poll respondents said that financial education should be a requirement in high school, with a total of 88 percent indicating it should at least be available.
- Boys are more likely to receive financial education than girls. In particular, women reported being deprived of financial education. Just 29 percent of women in the survey said they received some or a lot of financial education in high school, compared with 43 percent of men who said the same.
- Both men and women benefit from having had financial education. The gender gap in personal finance instruction in high school is a shame, because the poll results suggest that instruction can benefit both men and women. Eighty-two percent of women who received some or a lot of financial education in high school said they have a strong understanding of at least basic financial concepts, compared with just 71 percent of women who received little or no education. Among men, that gap was slightly larger (85 percent versus 64 percent). So while men seem to benefit more, both sexes appear to be helped significantly by financial education in high school.
Preparing the next generation
Like 88 percent of the poll's respondents, you probably feel schools should be offering personal finance education. But like 64 percent of those respondents, your children may not receive it. Here are two things you can do to get them some of this vital background:
- Ask your school district about financial education programs. Some financial education programs may be electives, which would explain why more boys than girls receive this type of instruction. See what is available in your children's schools, and insist on them taking advantage of financial education courses if they are available.
- Look for teachable moments when dealing with kids and money. Not all education should be left to the schools, and financial topics come up all the time when you have kids -- just think how often they ask for their allowance. Use those moments to teach them something about the thought process you use when making decisions about money. Also, periodically review your financial situation with your family, because every member of the household has a stake in it.
Education is often described as an investment in the future. Nowhere could the potential return on that investment be more clear than in educating students to make better decisions about money.
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