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OECD/INFE survey of adult financial literacy competencies

Evidence type: Insight i

  1. Context
  2. The study
  3. Key findings
  4. Points to consider


Financial education is becoming increasingly recognised by the international policy agenda, with sets of high-level principles relating to financial education and endorsed by the G20 leaders over the past few years. Consequently assessing financial literacy is a prominent and vital part of a successful national education strategy. It allows stakeholders to target policy specifically where it is most needed, while international comparisons allow countries to benchmark themselves alongside each other.

The study

This 2016 report addresses a call from G20 leaders to develop practical tools for financial literacy measurement. Thirty countries (among them 17 member countries of the OECD) participated in an international survey on financial literacy, using the International Gateway for Financial Education (INFE)/OECD toolkit to collect data that was comparable between countries. Overall, 51,650 adults aged 18 to 79 were interviewed using the same core questions throughout all countries. This study gives high-level findings looking at financial knowledge, behaviour, attitudes and inclusion, and gives insights into the financial literacy competencies of populations in terms of their future financial education needs.

Key findings

  • Across all countries levels of financial literacy, indicated by combining scores for knowledge, attitudes and behaviour, are relatively low.
    • The average score across all participating countries was 13.2 out of a maximum score of 21 (up to 7 for knowledge, 9 for behaviour and 5 for attitudes).
    • The average score in OECD countries was 13.7, while in the United Kingdom it was very close to the overall average at 13.1.
    • The reasons for low levels of literacy vary between countries. In some places knowledge is the main issue, while in others it is behaviour. For example, Latvia and Estonia have higher-than-average levels of financial knowledge, but their overall levels of financial literacy are low due to their financial behaviour scores.
  • Financial knowledge needs improvement across all countries, though there is considerable variation.
    • Just over half (56%) of adults across all countries score at least five out of seven on financial knowledge (in the UK, the average score was 4.2).
    • Overall, only 42% of adults were aware of the benefits to saving of interest compounding (52% in the UK), while only 58% could compute a percentage to work out a simple interest rate (57% in the UK).
    • Three-in-five men (61%) achieved the minimum target score in financial knowledge, compared to just half (51%) of women. In 19 out of the 30 countries and economies, there was a statistically significant difference between men and women when it came to their financial knowledge scores.
    • Interestingly, self-assessed levels of financial knowledge were fairly realistic.
  • Overall, just half of the respondents (51%) achieved the minimum target score of six out of nine on financial behaviour.
    • 85% of people in France achieved this target, compared to just a quarter of the respondents in Hungary, and 54% in the UK.
    • The weakest areas of financial behaviour were budgeting, planning ahead, choosing products and using independent advice.
  • Financial resilience was low across most countries, and particularly concerning in some of them such as Hungary, where only 25% of people set a budget.
    • Overall, 20% of people had had to borrow money in the past 12 months to ‘make ends meet.’ This was as high as 45% in Georgia and Thailand, but as low as 6% in Belgium and just 7% in the United Kingdom.
  • Long-term financial targets and goal setting was uncommon in many countries, with only one-in-three people setting financial goals in Poland (32%) compared to 51% overall and 45% in the UK.
  • Analysis of financial attitudes also suggested short-termism:
    • Just half of all adults achieved the minimum target score for financial attitudes. However, in Albania, Hungary, Portugal, Canada, Norway and New Zealand more than six-in-ten did so.
    • The report concludes by offering three high-level findings that enable a provisional set of policy implications to be drawn up:
    • The overall low levels of financial literacy stress the importance of starting financial education early and ideally at school.
    • Public authorities should look to strengthen knowledge, skills and behaviours through a range of financial education initiatives combined with other policies.
    • The regulatory environment and consumer protection network should be combined with financial education to improve financial resilience.

Points to consider

  • Methodological strengths or limitations:
    • Data is weighted to ensure that all findings are nationally representative. Full details of the survey are given in the appendices.
  • Relevance:
    • This report is relevant to all stakeholders and policymakers with an interest in financial education and financial literacy.
  • Generalisability/ transferability:
    • While the UK is included in the research, much of the report deals with the countries ‘as a whole’ so not directly relevant to the UK. However, UK findings are reported in this summary where appropriate.

Full report

OECD/INFE survey of adult financial literacy competencies - full report

Key info

Year of publication
Contact information

OECD [email protected] http://www.oecd.org/daf/