Put pillow talk into personal finance classes, study says

pillow talk©iStock.com/AleksandarNakic

COUPLES that often talk about money are more likely to be wealthy when they retire, a recently published study on retirement savings claims.

The research, published this month by The Journal of Consumer Affairs, (and available here) found that couples with low retirement wealth spoke to their other half about money "sometimes-to-often".

The high retirement wealth group reported that financial talk came up "often- to-always".

After looking at many different types of behaviour that can increase knowledge about finances, the researchers concluded that "consumer education that target[s] retirement planning and, in turn, saving" would be an effective way to increase saving for retirement, especially if the education emphasised that households that share information can go on to share the wealth.

Wife talk

A quirk of the communication finding was that it was only found, or at least only found to be significant, among the wives of the high wealth group.

The study looked at 291 households that were similar in many ways, to control for confounding variables participants had to be married, have at least one child and couldn't have previously divorced, for example.

The researchers speculated that because the husbands in the high wealth group were engaged in more financial education they felt more comfortable sharing their knowledge with their partners.

Although wives in the high wealth group were also more likely than women in the low group to have been referred to a financial professional by their employer so that doesn't really explain the one way direction of knowledge sharing.

In addition, the education factor could mean that talking more about money was just a natural consequence, like a bonus, of proactively finding out about it.

Similarly, the two factors could just be correlates: these couples could have been talking more about money because they had more money.

Gender gap

It's interesting to see a study that specifically recommends that financial education emphasise sharing within relationships but the implication - that women, in general, are less likely to have high financial literacy and are less likely to plan for retirement - is long established in research on this subject.

For example, 2013 research from the The Institute of Chartered Accountants of Scotland into "asset rich cash poor" older people found a high proportion of women "who played no active role in financial planning, but left such decisions entirely to their husband to take care of."

This approach tended to leave women with less money at retirement.

There are a number of explanations put forward by researchers from financial planning rarely forming a part of a woman's role within a relationship (or the specialisation argument) to the fact that women are more likely to take time out of the workplace and are therefore more likely to miss retirement planning interventions at that point.

This doesn't explain why a gender gap persists even among younger women, however.

A 2012 research paper found that to be the case among young women from Germany, the US and the Netherlands where the comparison was based on a standardised test to gauge financial literacy level.

While encouraging information sharing in relationships could be one way to encourage retirement planning, then, a better way might be to design financial education to target women or, at least, to take steps to ensure that women aren't left out of existing financial education interventions.

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