Despite the apparent interest in games among both investors and investment firms, some research has cast doubt on long-term improvements in financial literacy. One study — conducted by Shawn Cole at Harvard Business School, Anna Paulson at the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago and Gauri Kartini Shastry at Wellesley College — examined the results of mandatory financial literacy courses in schools and found “no effect” on savings and investment behavior.
“What worries me is people have this intuition that it’s all about information,” according to Dan Ariely, the James B. Duke Professor of Psychology and Behavioral Economics at Duke University. “Information alone is very unlikely to help,” he said.
Other organizations, such as the nonprofit Commonwealth based in Boston, are aiming to bridge the gap between thinking and doing. With support from the Treasury Department, Commonwealth tested an app aimed at helping lower-income high school students, called Ramp It Up, in which players complete college and career-readiness projects like creating a financial aid account, or searching for scholarships, in order to advance in the game.
Ms. Maksymiw, for one, said the games helped her decide to double her contribution to her company’s retirement plan, and she now reads her quarterly statements. After yielding much of the responsibility for managing her savings and investments to her father — “he’s been doing that since before I was born,” she said — she now says her goal is to take over more of the decisions for her own money outside her retirement plan.
But when it comes to retirement planning, some persistent negative perceptions of aging may be one of the biggest obstacles, said Tamara Sims, a research scientist with Stanford’s Center on Longevity. Her latest research, conducted with Jeanne Tsai, a professor in Stanford’s psychology department, demonstrates that people who focus more on what they lose than what they gain show a greater reluctance to think and plan for their later years. Her survey included the questions: “What do you look forward to about being 75 and older?” and “What do you dread?” Those with more negative perceptions tended to focus on physical and cognitive limitations while those who looked forward to aging emphasized more lifestyle benefits, like social connections, family, enjoying nature or leisure, she said.
“Your future self is an abstract concept,” Dr. Sims said. Even a simple writing exercise focusing on the ways you would like to take care of an older you can help people perceive their future more clearly. This could help spur planning for retirement, shifting a discussion away from the downsides of aging to, “This isn’t a scary, frightening thing but this is something I look forward to,” she said.