Personal financial education in school makes some people feel better about their money—but not everybody.

Leading voices within the financial industry have cited instilling personal finance education into public school curricula as key to combating low levels of financial literacy and retirement readiness, yet recent analysis of data from the FINRA Foundation’s “National Financial Capability Study” reveals that such courses may actually increase the financial stress felt by certain students.

All told, 32 states currently mandate personal finance education as part of their high school graduation requirements.

While financial education in high schools has positive effects, those pluses are not evenly distributed to each student. For example, while the analysis found financial education graduation requirements improve the subjective financial well-being of men, it offered no improvement for women despite evidence that it may have had a positive impact on women’s objective financial situation.

In other words, financial education makes men feel better about their finances, but does nothing to improve women’s sentiments.

The FINRA Foundation study asked respondents to answer a five-item financial well-being scale asking them whether they feel like they control their day-to-day and month-to-month finances, whether they can absorb a financial shock, whether they feel they’re on track to meet their financial goals, and whether they have the financial freedom to make choices that will allow them to enjoy life.

While men who experienced mandatory personal finance education in school were less concerned about running out of money and felt more in control of their finances, women reported feeling no impact. Yet having received financial education made women more likely to have a checking or savings account and less likely to use alternative, high-cost financial services.

Prior research cited by the report’s authors show that, generally speaking, financial education helps young people manage cash flows and pay their bills, which should result in short-term improvements in financial well-being.

The effects of mandated personal finance courses also differed by a person’s level of education. When financial education is required in high school, it increases the subjective financial well-being for adults who attend at least some college, but for those who end their formal education after graduating from high school, financial education actually reduced their subjective financial well-being.

Respondents with college degrees who experienced mandatory financial education in school were less likely to feel concerned that their money wouldn’t last, and those with at least some college were more likely to say that they would have money left over to save at the end of the month. But those who only achieved a high school diploma, on the other hand, were more likely to feel that they would never have the things they wanted in life because of their money situation.

Being financially literate does not improve the financial sentiment of these groups, according to the research, because it “forces people to develop a realistic sense of their financial situations.”

The researchers argue that required personal finance curricula in schools should focus on content that can help students manage limited incomes and expand their human capital, an approach that they feel might help lessen inequalities across levels of educational attainment.

For the study, researchers from the University of Southern California, the University of Wisconsin-Madison and Montana State University analyzed a sample of 12,228 individuals who responded to the FINRA Foundation’s survey in 2018.

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