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By Barbara O’Neill, Ph.D., CFP®, [email protected]

Personal Financial Managers (PFMs) are always incorporating personal finance research findings into their briefings, publications, and counseling sessions. Fortunately, PFMs and other financial educators have lots of research to draw from. Below are key findings and implications for practice from four recent studies:

  • Financial Apps– Pearson (2021) found that people who use app-based and web-based financial planning products are allocating “attentional resources” to their financial situation. Those who sometimes and frequently use app-based and web-based tools are more likely to have an emergency fund, find it easier to cover their bills, save for their children’s college education, and have a plan for retirement.

Implications: Engage with learners around online platforms and create a hierarchy of financial task assignments for them to complete (e.g., use of financial calculators).

  • Working in Later Life- In their study of “working life expectancy” based on data about the probability of dying, being institutionalized, or having work-limiting disabilities, Quinby and Wettstein (2021) found that a stark divide exists along racial and educational lines. The study results showed that, between 2006 and 2018, gains in working life expectancy slowed. In addition, Black workers, as well as whites with less education, may not be able to work until the Social Security full retirement age of 67.

Implications: Encourage healthy behaviors (e.g., food choices, exercise, and non-smoking) and ongoing investments in human capital to help clients remain employable.

  • IRA Account Ownership- Magwegwe and Lim (2021) explored factors associated with the ownership of individual retirement accounts (IRAs). The results showed that favorable attitudes, strong social norms, and perceived behavioral control are associated with calculating retirement savings needs. Also, calculating retirement savings needs, as well as perceived behavioral control and having an employer-based retirement plan, were associated with IRA ownership.

Implications: Conduct a robust workplace financial education program and help learners calculate their retirement savings needs using online calculators from the Thrift Savings Plan and other sources.

  • Gender Differences in Financial Literacy– Bucher-Koenen et al. (2021) found that financial knowledge explains only two-thirds of the financial literacy gap between men and women. The remaining third is explained by confidence. Women tend to disproportionately respond “do not know” to assessment questions that measure financial knowledge but, when this response option is unavailable, they often choose the correct answer. In other words, women know more than they think they know about personal finance. Both financial knowledge and confidence explain stock market participation.

Implications:  Help instill women’s confidence in their financial knowledge through learning experiences that build both knowledge and confidence and encourage stock purchases with modest amounts to gain investing experience.


Bucher-Koenen, T., Alessie, R. J., Lusardi, A., and van Rooij, M. (2021). Fearless woman: Financial literacy and stock market participation. NBER Working Paper No. 28723.

Maqwegwe, F. M. and Lin, H. (2021). Factors associated with the ownership of individual retirement accounts (IRAs): Applying the theory of planned behavior.  JFCP Research Journal, 32(1). 

Pearson, B. (2021). The role of personal financial salience. Journal of Financial Planning, 34(8), 74–86.

Quinby, L. D. and Wettstein, G. (2021). Are older workers capable of working longer? Center for Retirement Research at Boston College, number 21-12.