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What international data tells us about youth financial literacy

We recently released a financial literacy brief based on the Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) data. We hope this research brief will help stakeholders understand how the 2015 PISA financial literacy data about U.S. students may be used to identify effective approaches to financial education and better define the metrics for success. This data was publicly released in 2017.

PISA background

PISA is a standardized test coordinated by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD). Every three years 15-year-old students from more than a dozen countries take the test to measure how well they are prepared for adult life. We partnered with the Department of Education’s National Center for Education Statistics to obtain and analyze this information . 

PISA assesses three core subject areas (math, reading and science), but it also measures financial literacy, providing much-needed data about gaps in financial skills among young people. This information can inform the development of more targeted programs and policies, serve as an opportunity to learn from other countries’ data and help determine strategies to improve youth financial literacy in the U.S. 

Significant findings from our analysis

  • By age 15, financial literacy gaps emerge based on socioeconomic status. The PISA results show that a clear gap in financial literacy based on socioeconomic status emerges by age 15, before most teenagers have even begun their financial lives. Rather than just using household income to determine socioeconomic status, PISA measures for economic, social, and cultural status (called ESCS). ESCS is measured by parental education, highest parental occupation, and possessions in the home, including, for example, the number of books in the home. Students from families with high ESCS scores scored significantly higher than their peers with lower ESCS scores. 

  • Schools influence financial literacy of their students. The PISA study also reveals clear gaps in financial literacy scores based on the percentage of students in a given school who receive a free and reduced price lunch (FRPL). Even after accounting for family socioeconomic status, the PISA results indicate that students’ financial literacy scores tend to be significantly lower for students who receive FRPL.

Our analysis of the data suggests that schools, in addition to family characteristics, can be an important avenue to help raise youth financial literacy. In the financial literacy brief, we provide data to help educators understand why financial literacy gaps exist and suggest that robust financial education in schools, particularly those with a higher share of low-income students, holds promise to improve financial capability for all students, regardless of background.


Through a partnership with the Department of Education’s National Center for Education Statistics, the CFPB conducted an analysis of the 2015 data of the PISA financial literacy results and the supplemental money management questionnaire. The PISA Financial Literacy assessment was conducted in 2018 and will be conducted again in 2021. Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), 2015, Program for International Student Assessment, accessed from http://www.oecd.org/pisa/data/2015database/ on September 13, 2018.

See OECD, PISA Scaling procedures and construct validation of context questionnaire data (2015) at 339, available at oecd.org/pisa/sitedocument/PISA-2015-Technical-Report-Chapter-16-Procedures-and-Construct-Validation-of-Context-Questionnaire-Data.pdf .

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