Category Archives: Graduate Coursework

Why Apple should fight childhood hunger and poverty

This is a discussion post that I completed on 2018-01-11 for the class, EDF 6855: Factors Affecting Equitable Educational Opportunity and Life Chances: A Cross-National Analysis, taught by Judit Szente, Ph.D. at University of Central Florida.

Please reflect on the possible cause and effect of a specific issue and how it affects children’s life chances (e.g., reasons of poverty and hunger, effects of poverty and hunger, how poverty and/or hunger may affect children’s life chances).

The UNICEF (2016) chapter on children and poverty repeated emphasizes the need for multidimensional measurement of child poverty. In Sub-Saharan Africa or South Asia, even a household making more than 5.00 USD per day may still be poor in terms of their access to education, sanitation, electricity, et cetera. Infrastructure and access is critical to combating child hunger and poverty. For instance, many Chinese rural–urban migrants are denied access to education and other services in their new cities of residence (UNICEF, 2016), meaning their children are still experiencing poverty on many critical dimensions.

Last month (December 2017), I visited family in Shenyang, Liaoning, China for three weeks, which included a 10-day road trip visiting many tourist sites such as the Great Wall, Beijing Palace Museum, Yellow River, Longmen Grottoes, and Terracotta Army. Although the opportunity to visit such tourist sites is restricted to the relatively wealthy, with admission fees ranging from 50–150 RMB (7.50–22.50 USD) plus costs of travel, around such sites it was clear that many sellers of fruit, trinkets, and “tour guide” services are poor or at least struggling. At the Yellow River (Hukou Falls), a woman trying to sell a bag of a dozen apples for 10 RMB (1.5 USD) followed us. Although my family protested, I tried giving her one USD as a gift, but due to the language barrier, she placed the apples in the trunk of our car and accepted the dollar bill as payment. I felt bad, but my family assured me that at 10 RMB she was over-charging compared to other apple sellers and that one USD (6.5 RMB) was sufficient. Regardless, it is clear that many of these sellers are part of the “informal” economy (UNICEF, 2016), along with the associated disadvantages. Occasionally, I would even see children working with their parents to sell fruit or package incense sticks—time the children could be using to complete homework or play with friends. Although children may enjoy selling items, for poor families, child labor often becomes a necessity that inhibits educational progress and subsequent life chances. In fact, a recent longitudinal study of poor U.S. children showed a lack of brain and cognitive development stemming from poor nutrition and lack of cognitive stimulation (Hair, Hanson, Wolfe, & Pollak, 2015). Poverty is more likely to persist across generations when from an early age, poor children are malnourished and suffer wasting, stunting, rickets, and other maladies and disadvantages.

The United Nations (2017) first two Sustainable Development Goals focus on ending extreme poverty and malnutrition by 2030. These ambitious targets are unlikely, yet their promulgation stimulates public interest and support. However, they are simultaneously quite restrained. Individuals making more than 1.25 USD per day are not considered “extremely” poor, yet over a billion of them are actually still quite poor (UNICEF, 2006). While we often look to governments and NGOs to fight childhood hunger and poverty, it can easily be argued that corporate citizens should also play their part. Yesterday (January 17, 2018), Apple Inc. announced it will be repatriating its vast overseas cash hoard under the newly reduced U.S. tax rates. Their press release says they will pay $38 billion in tax, which means at the new 15.5% rate they will bring $250 billion home—a massive, almost incomprehensible sum. Sadly, in their press release, there is no mention of hunger or poverty. The only mention of education is computer programming (“coding”) and science, technology, engineering, arts, and math (STEAM) in the US. While many excuse public corporations from charitable responsibilities due to the supposedly preeminent responsibility to provide maximum profits to their shareholders, this may be misguided or even ridiculous. In China, iPhones have a following despite being more expensive than in the US when considering exchange rates—and several times more pricey when considering relative wages. Arguably, Apple should be investing heavily in Sub-Saharan Africa for future profitability via sales there. However, chasing inflated quarterly earnings and higher stock valuations in the short-term often inhibits corporations from long-range planning—such as developing the South Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa markets by confronting childhood hunger and poverty head-on.

References

Apple Inc. (2018, January 17). Apple accelerates US investment and job creation [Press release]. Retrieved from https://www.apple.com/newsroom/2018/01/apple-accelerates-us-investment-and-job-creation/

Hair, N. L., Hanson, J. L., Wolfe, B. L., & Pollak, S. D. (2015). Association of child poverty, brain development, and academic achievement. JAMA Pediatrics, 169, 822–829. https://doi.org/10.1001/jamapediatrics.2015.1475

UNICEF. (2016). The state of the world’s children 2016: A fair chance for every child. New York, NY: UNICEF. Retrieved from https://www.unicef.org/publications/index_91711.html

United Nations. (2017). Sustainable Development Goals: 17 goals to transform our world. Retrieved from http://www.un.org/sustainabledevelopment/sustainable-development-goals/

School attendance in Sub-Saharan Africa

This is a discussion post that I completed on 2018-01-11 for the class, EDF 6855: Factors Affecting Equitable Educational Opportunity and Life Chances: A Cross-National Analysis, taught by Judit Szente, Ph.D. at University of Central Florida.

What is your reflection on the goals of the Education for All initiative? What are some major areas in which we urgently need some growth internationally?

The goals of the Education for All (EFA) initiative (World Bank, 2014) revolve around equitable access via a focus on disadvantaged populations, such as girls and women, minorities, the poor, and those living in war zones and other conflict-stricken areas. Although females earn a majority of high school diplomas and postsecondary degrees in the United States (Kirst, 2013), in developing nations females’ access to education is impeded by many factors. Despite the costs and challenges, improving education and access is a moral imperative that produces great human and economic gains. While the EFA does little without practical action from signatory nations and organizations, it sets the tone, and the accompanying analyses and policy work guide funding priorities and debates.

One area where growth is needed internationally is in school attendance (UNESCO, 2014). From 2007 to 2012 the global rate of primary school attendance (Ages 6–11) has not increased beyond 91%, although great gains were made prior to 2007. The 9% of primary-age children not in school is a considerable figure—58 million, 43% of which have not and will probably never attend school. The lack of growth in school attendance is concentrated in sub-Saharan Africa, where slightly more than half (29.6 million) of non-attending primary aged children reside. While in 2000–2012, the proportional decline in primary out-of-school rate was the same in sub-Saharan Africa (39% to 21%) as in the rest of the world (10.5% to 5.5%), in the same timeframe the primary school age population increased by 35% in sub-Saharan Africa as compared with a 10% decrease elsewhere. Based on 2012 data, UNESCO (2014) expects this population explosion to continue in sub-Saharan Africa, which means this region will continue needing urgent attention.

References

Kirst, M. W. (2013, May 28). Women earn more degrees than men; Gap keeps increasing [Blog post]. Retrieved from https://collegepuzzle.stanford.edu/women-earn-more-degrees-than-men-gap-keeps-increasing/

UNESCO Institute for Statistics and Education for All Global Monitoring Report (2014, June). Progress in getting all children to school stalls but some countries show the way forward. Retrieved from http://unesdoc.unesco.org/images/0022/002281/228184E.pdf

World Bank (2014, August 4). Education for all. Retrieved from http://www.worldbank.org/en/topic/education/brief/education-for-all

Qualitative Research Proposal on Attitudes Toward the Working Poor

This is a research proposal that I completed on 2017-12-06 for the class, EDF 7475: Qualitative Research in Education taught by David Boote, Ph.D. at University of Central Florida. Note that I do not intend to conduct this research.

EDF 7475 Qualitative Research Proposal on Attitudes Toward the Working Poor
Richard Thripp
University of Central Florida

Financially, many Americans are not only unprepared for retirement, but also the day-to-day surprises of life. When Americans are asked whether they can “come up with” $2000 within 30 days, nearly half say they could “probably not” or “certainly not” do so (Lusardi, 2011). While this is troubling, one way we can shed light on this phenomenon is to research Americans’ approach to saving and perceptions toward others who are financially struggling.

Purpose

My proposed study is to conduct semi-structured interviews with working-class and privileged Americans about their approach toward saving and their perceptions of others who are struggling financially. My interest here was crystallized from analyzing employee–employer reviews of Rent-A-Center (Glassdoor, 2017) that I selected for complaints about taking advantage of customers (e.g., repossessing children’s beds). However, to my surprise, when coding these interviews, there were more statements deriding the customers as “liars and thieves,” the “worst specimens of humanity,” and as deserving their fates due to their lack of personal responsibility. While in part, this may be due to racism toward African Americans (Gilens, 1996), surprisingly, welfare recipients themselves may tend to consider other welfare recipients “dishonest and idle” (Bullock, 1999). The purpose of this study is to learn, via qualitative methods, about attitudes toward people with financial difficulties from individuals of two socioeconomic strata. A semi-structured interview approach will yield richer data and useful insights that would not appear in a simple questionnaire.

Research Questions

1. What are privileged and working-class Americans’ thoughts toward others who are financially struggling, and how do these attitudes differ between group?
2. How do privileged and working-class Americans differ in their approaches to saving?

Significance of the Project

This study will contribute to research on financial psychology, such as with respect to spending behavior (e.g., Soman, 2001). A wealth of survey data shows a lack of financial literacy in the United States, Europe, and beyond (Lusardi & Mitchell, 2014). Educators and policymakers erroneously presume that financial education is efficacious (Fernandes, Lynch, & Netemeyer, 2014). Meanwhile, inequity in the United States is growing at a breakneck pace, which financially disenfranchises a large proportion of the population (Lusardi, Michaud, & Mitchell, 2017). Looking at differences between the rich and poor in their beliefs about the financially downtrodden may yield useful insights.

Literature Review

When comparing the working poor to the financially privileged, it is important to recognize the two groups are not at all on equal footing. For instance, while using a tangible or immediate payment method like cash or a debit card results in reduced spending (Soman, 2001), the tendency for the working poor to use debit cards, rather than credit or charge cards, engenders delinquency and overdraft fees. Stango and Zinman (2009, 2014) lament that consumers pay an annual average of about $150 per checking account in overdraft fees, and more than half of these are “avoidable,” meaning the consumer has funds available elsewhere that could have paid for their purchase. Moreover, the working poor are disproportionately affected, which may be due to a lack of attention due to many other pressing financial concerns (Stango & Zinman, 2014), and because a $35 overdraft fee does not scale with financial privilege. In fact, banks may be more willing to refund such a fee for those who need it least.

Lusardi and Mitchell (2014) discuss a saddening finding from the U.S. Financial Capability Study (www.usfinancialcapability.org): While 70% of Americans rate their financial knowledge highly, only 30% can actually answer a small number of quite basic financial questions correctly. Less education and being in a vulnerable group, such as African Americans, women, young or old, and rural residence, are all correlated with less financial literacy and by consequence, financial struggles. At a macro level, this undermines American economic stability and perpetuates wealth inequality, including the subjugation and disenfranchisement of vulnerable and protected groups (Lusardi et al., 2017).

Sadly, financial education courses, at least in their present form, do not have lasting beneficial impact on financial behaviors (Fernandes et al., 2014; Mandell, 2012). On the other hand, regulatory reforms (Grubb, 2015) and “nudging” the working poor toward better choices (Thaler & Sunstein, 2008) have merit. However, a complete analysis of the plight of the financially disadvantaged must include our attitudes and attributions. Financial education may implicitly embody these perceptions, thereby patronizing and alienating its intended population, or at the very least, lacking relevance.

Americans tend to have negative attitudes toward the poor. If they believe in the Protestant work ethic or the “just-world” hypothesis, which claims that good and evil actions are eventually rewarded or punished, they may be more likely to blame the poor for their situation (Cozzarelli, Wilkinson, & Tagler, 2001). Individuals who are homeless have been shown to be stigmatized as much or more than the mentally ill, with a general attitude that they should blame themselves for their situations (Phelan, Link, Moore, & Stueve, 1997). “Black welfare mothers” are stigmatized and derided far more than their white counterparts, in part because of availability bias due to politicization (Gilens, 1996). While welfare recipients tend to blame structural rather than individual factors for poverty, they surprisingly view other welfare recipients as dishonest and lazy to a greater extent than middle-class respondents (Bullock, 1999). This finding is in line with my observation of Rent-A-Center employees’ (Glassdoor, 2017) derogatory views toward customers, given Rent-A-Center is not a high-paying job and thus most employees could be classified among the working poor. Attitudes toward poverty, including differences between the poor and financially advantaged, deserve further inquiry.

Research Methods

My research will be organized around in-person semi-structured interviews from purposefully sampled participants who volunteer for this research by responding to solicitations.

Research Site

The research site will be my office, Education Complex, Room 123L, at the University of Central Florida. I share an office with other doctoral students, but will coordinate with their schedules to conduct interviews when I have the room to myself. Because personal finances can be a sensitive topic, this setting may be preferable to a public setting (e.g., a cafeteria) because it offers more privacy. In the office, I will interview participants across a small desk. I will use an audio recording app on my smartphone and a printed interview protocol attached to a clipboard, with space to jot down notes with a pen. This is much less intrusive than taking notes on computer or mobile device during the interview.

Researcher’s Role

I will be interviewing the participants using a semi-structured interview protocol that I developed, conducting brief follow-up contacts with participants for member checking, and conducting analysis and interpretation of the data which will include my rough notes, field notes, and audio recording of the interviews (Creswell & Poth, 2017). Overall, my positionality is as a financial expert and researcher who advocates for educational interventions and industry reforms that benefit the working poor. One weak spot is that I am not personally familiar with having financial difficulties, so it is somewhat challenging to relate to the working poor.

Sampling Method

I will solicit participants via advertisements posted in the Education Complex at UCF and at a nearby country club or other place where privileged people congregate. I may also use email or web solicitations. All solicitations will funnel prospective participants into a Qualtrics questionnaire which will use deception (with approval from the UCF Institutional Review Board) to hide the primary purpose of the research; namely, searching for differences in attitudes toward the financially disadvantaged between working class and privileged individuals. The Qualtrics questionnaire will frame the purpose of the research in general terms about Americans’ attitudes toward saving. Several questions about prospects’ financial and work situations will be included, ostensibly to gauge the financial situation of Americans. I will use responses to these questions to select a number of privileged and working-class participants to contact.

To define the construct of privileged versus working class, I will ask these questions:

1. What is your annual income?
a. $1 – $29,999
b. $30,000 – $74,999
c. $75,000 – $149,999
d. $150,000 or more

To what extent do you agree with the following statements? [Each question will be on a 1-5 Likert-type scale from Strongly Disagree to Strongly Agree]

2. I could come up with $2000 within 30 days (Lusardi, 2011).
3. I could stop working for a year and live comfortably on either accumulated savings or income from a pension, gifts from family, et cetera without going into debt.
4. I have not had significant financial difficulties in life.

Participants who have higher incomes and agree who tend to agree with the latter three questions will be considered privileged, while others will be considered working class. Participants may be any age 18 or older. I may aim for rough parity in age between groups, but am not specifically interested in age differences (nor gender, ethnicity, etc.) so this would not be preeminent.

Data Collection Methods

When contacting prospects, I will offer participants an incentive of $20 to participate in a 30-minute face-to-face interview at my UCF office. This will be explained as furthering research on financial literacy, education, and attitudes for the public’s benefit. I would likely invite 10 participants per group (privileged and working class) with a goal of five final interviews per group. Because these would already be “warm” prospects who completed a Qualtrics questionnaire that mentioned an in-person interview, conversion rates should be relatively high. For certain participants on an as-needed basis, I may conduct some interviews via recorded telephone call or Skype video chat.

Interviews will be semi-structured, first with the icebreaker question, “what would you do if you received $10,000 unexpectedly right now?” There may be interesting differences between groups in their approach to handling a small windfall. The remainder of the interview will use these guiding questions:

1. Tell me about your approach to saving money.
2. Have you had significant financial struggles in your life?
3. How do you feel about others who are financially struggling?

I will listen carefully to what participants say. Although my research questions are the primary interest, if the interview diverges, this may also be of interest. At the conclusion I will ask them to verify what I have written down (member checking) and I will take notes or make corrections as appropriate. Immediately after I will write up field notes. Later, I will transcribe the audio recording. Subsequently, I will perform thematic coding on the interviews. I anticipate an emergent coding process whereby one or several interviews are coded prior to conducting the rest of the interviews with an interview protocol that may be revised based on prior findings.

I will also be asking participants if they are interested in an optional follow-up interview which can be in-person, by phone, or Skype. Then, I hope to conduct at least one follow-up interview per group to collect more data based on findings that emerge from initial interviews.

Analysis and Trustworthiness

Data analysis plan. I will set the stage for data analysis with detailed field notes and transcripts. Then, I will code the interviews iteratively for meaningful and noteworthy statements. These will be clustered into themes regarding participants’ attitudes toward the financially struggling, in–out group bias, approaches to saving, feelings of self-determination or external locus of control, et cetera. The goal will be to reach thematic saturation, thereby exhaustively describing the phenomenon and enabling analysis of its structure (Creswell & Poth, 2017). This will be an iterative process with revisions between interviews, as I do not expect to conduct all 10 interviews at once.

Establishing validity and trustworthiness. These will partly be established from member checking at the conclusion of interviews, iterative revisions between interviews to address shortcomings, and in at least one follow-up interview per group (privileged and working poor). Conducting interviews in a private, in-person setting may enable trustworthiness by encouraging participants to be frank about their attitudes toward the working poor. Participants will have already completed a sorting questionnaire via Qualtrics, and will be assured their responses will be kept anonymous by use of aliases and, when published, masking or alteration of information that might give away their identities. In particular, this may be important for privileged participants who may be community figures. Overall, the insights from this qualitative investigation should be both practical and entertaining, with a level of validity and trustworthiness comparable to or exceeding that of similar qualitative research.

References

Bullock, H. E. (1999). Attributions for poverty: A comparison of middle-class and welfare recipient attitudes. Journal of Applied Social Psychology, 10, 2059–2082. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1559-1816.1999.tb02295.x

Cozzarelli, C., Tagler, M. J., & Wilkinson, A. V. (2001). Attitudes toward the poor and attributions for poverty. Journal of Social Issues57, 207–227. https://doi.org/10.1111/0022-4537.00209

Creswell, J. W., & Poth, C. N. (2017). Qualitative inquiry & research design: Choosing among five approaches (4th ed.). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

Fernandes, D., Lynch, J. G., Jr., & Netemeyer, R. G. (2014). Financial literacy, financial education, and downstream financial behaviors. Management Science, 60, 1861–1883. https://doi.org/10.1287/mnsc.2013.1849

Gilens, M. (1996). “Race coding” and white opposition to welfare. The American Political Science Review, 90, 593–604. https://doi.org/10.2307/2082611

Glassdoor (2017). Rent-A-Center Employee Reviews. Retrieved from https://www.glassdoor.com/Reviews/Rent-A-Center-Reviews-E3914.htm

Grubb, M. D. (2015). Consumer inattention and bill-shock regulation. Review of Economic Studies, 82, 219–257. https://doi.org/10.1093/restud/rdu024

Lusardi, A. (2011, December). Why are Americans so bad at saving? Retrieved from https://www.npr.org/sections/money/2011/12/19/143961175/why-are-americans-so-bad-at-saving

Lusardi, A., Michaud, P.-C., & Mitchell, O. S. (2017). Optimal financial knowledge and wealth inequality. Journal of Political Economy, 125, 431–477. https://doi.org/10.1086/690950

Lusardi, A., & Mitchell, O. S. (2014). The economic importance of financial literacy: Theory and evidence. Journal of Economic Literature, 52, 5–44. https://doi.org/10.1257/jel.52.1.5

Mandell, L. (2012). School-based financial education: Not ready for prime time. CFA Institute Research Foundation, 2012(3), 107–124.

Phelan, J., Link, B. G., Moore, R. E., & Stueve, A. (1997). The stigma of homelessness: The impact of the label “homeless” on attitudes toward poor persons. Social Psychology Quarterly, 60, 323–337. https://doi.org/10.2307/2787093

Soman, D. (2001). Effects of payment mechanism on spending behavior: The role of rehearsal and immediacy of payments. Journal of Consumer Research, 27, 460–474. https://doi.org/10.1086/319621

Stango, V., & Zinman, J. (2009). What do consumers really pay on their checking and credit card accounts? Explicit, implicit, and avoidable costs. The American Economic Review, 99, 424–429. https://doi.org/10.1257/aer.99.2.424

Stango, V., & Zinman, J. (2014). Limited and varying consumer attention: Evidence from shocks to the salience of bank overdraft fees. The Review of Financial Studies, 27, 990–1030. https://doi.org/10.1093/rfs/hhu008

Thaler, R. H., & Sunstein, C. R. (2008). Nudge: Improving decisions about health, wealth, and happiness. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.

Consumer Susceptibility to Bank Overdraft Fees: Evidence and Implications

Consumer Susceptibility to Bank Overdraft Fees: Evidence and Implications
Richard Thripp
University of Central Florida

Even in 2001, Soman noted the dizzying array of payment mechanisms available to consumers. While traveler’s checks have vanished, many more mechanisms have emerged—near-field communication (NFC) payment methods like Apple and Android Pay, mobile apps, Bitcoin, PayPal, and digital gift cards, to name a few. Nevertheless, the factors that Soman (2001) experimentally substantiated remain—the “learning and rehearsal of the price paid” and “immediacy with which wealth is depleted” (p. 466). Cash has both, paper checks have the former, and credit cards and many emergent payment methods have neither. The presence of these factors makes spending painful, while their absence encourages buying by making it less real, including by bundling the purchases together to be paid at a later date. However, a consideration Soman (2001) did not examine is that debit cards’ direct connection to one’s bank account engenders delinquency and overdraft fees—a fee of about $35 a bank charges for your account going negative. At times, immediacy can do this—a credit card is paid monthly in a lump sum, which gives just one opportunity for overdraft. At other times, delayed or recurring debits, due to their lack of immediacy and/or variability in cost, can cause costly overdraft fees.

Stango and Zinman (2009, 2014) lament that consumers pay an annual average of about $150 per checking account in overdraft fees, and more than half of these are “avoidable,” meaning the consumer has funds available elsewhere that could have paid for their purchase. They recruited panelists who not only completed questionnaires, but also provided access to their transaction-level checking account data. Their 7448 panelists participated for a median of 16 months, with over 95% reporting having only one checking account. A majority (52%) incurred an overdraft fee during the panel or in the past. Questionnaire responses revealed that 60% attributed overdrafts to mental overestimation of available balance, while the remainder generally reported deposit holds or other unexpected liquidity irregularities. An economist who erroneously models humans as rational maximizers might surmise that consumers pay overdraft fees because the marginal utility of the debit exceeds the sum of the debit amount and overdraft fee—but Stango and Zinman’s (2014) data and questionnaires point toward a limited attention model, meaning consumers simply are not paying close enough attention to their checking accounts. However, drawing consumers’ attention to overdraft fees via questionnaires was found, by examination of their transaction-level bank data, to result in fewer overdrafts in subsequent months.

Employing the inattention model, one is empowered to advocate for regulatory reform to improve social welfare (Grubb, 2015). The Federal Reserve took an important step when they required banks to make opting in the requirement for overdraft protection on debit cards. This nudge (Thaler & Sunstein, 2008) prevents many overdrafts, and the requisite fees, at the point of sale. However, it does nothing for recurring intrabank transfers, automated clearinghouse transactions, or checks, all of which may still trigger overdraft fees. Notably, in addition to attention, quantitative literacy and numerical skills have been shown to positively correlate with financial behaviors that are future-oriented, rather than impulsive (Nye & Hillyard, 2013).

Lusardi and Mitchell (2014) discuss a saddening finding from the U.S. Financial Capability Study (www.usfinancialcapability.org): While 70% of Americans rate their financial knowledge highly, only 30% can actually answer a small number of quite basic financial questions correctly. Less education and being in a vulnerable group, such as African Americans, women, young or old, and rural residence, are all correlated with less financial literacy and by consequence, susceptibility to overdraft fees. At a macro level, this undermines American economic stability and perpetuates wealth inequality, including the subjugation and disenfranchisement of vulnerable and protected groups (Lusardi, Michaud, & Mitchell, 2017).

Implications and More Evidence

Here is a simple inductive leap: If consumers cannot even manage their bank accounts prudently, how can we expect them to accumulate wealth judiciously and copiously? “Retirement”—which might be characterized as a prolonged period of reduced earnings subsidized by decumulation of capital—is a pricey proposition. Financial literacy education (FLE), or, providing students and consumers with general-purpose instruction on relevant financial topics, intuitively appears to be a practical and effective solution.

However, L. E. Willis argues, with astonishing prolificacy, that financial literacy education (FLE) is misguided and pointless (e.g., Willis, 2008). A law professor, she paints personal finance as a fast-moving river where yesterday’s advice—and regulations, for that matter—are soon stale and even detrimental, in part because the financial services industry prospers on complexity and chaos. For example, adjustable-rate mortgages were rare before the mid-2000s, and sadly, homebuying education only warned strenuously about such mortgages after the crisis. Of course, mistaking your mortgage broker for a fiduciary (i.e., Ross & Squires, 2011) transcends FLE—avoiding confidence tricks requires a different set of psychosocial skills that only partially overlaps with financial literacy.

While it would be disingenuous to depict Willis’s dourness as more than a fringe view, the coalition behind FLE can rightly be depicted as Pollyannaish—or even, in certain quarters, diabolical (cf. English, 2014). When Fernandes, Lynch, and Netemeyer (2014) completed their meta-analysis of FLE interventions, they found FLE curdles like milk—even sprawling, semester-long courses do nothing to improve behavior two years in the future. In fact, complementary to Willis (2008), they propose to disembowel FLE right in their abstract— “just-in-time” FLE is their neutered, potentially-useful alternative. Even Lewis Mandell, professor emeritus, at the forefront of financial education and research for over 40 years, in 2012 called for a moratorium on mandatory financial literacy courses in secondary school, because “successful implementation of [financial] educational programs has not occurred” (Mandell, 2012, p. 107)— they simply do not work as presently conceived.

What We Can Do

In the field of instructional design, there is a widely voiced reverence for principles over technology. While technologies are like rapids, principles—such as the alignment of assessment tools with learning objectives—are timeless. In a similar vein, to encourage avoidance of bank and credit fees, we might focus on teaching strategies rather than financial content. For instance, numeracy and quantitative literacy are important (Nye & Hillyard, 2013), yet distinct from FLE and perhaps not actually taught in most FLE programs.

Ironically, Willis (2009) proposes a promising yet untested alternative: financial norms education (FNE). FNE principles, or benchmarks[1], are more accessible, memorable, and require less cognitive load (e.g., Drexler, Fischer, & Schoar, 2014). For bank fees, you could start with a piece of empirical evidence from Stango and Zinman’s (2009, 2014) research: 83% of panelists who incurred overdraft fees regularly let their balance slip below $100, while only 56% of panelists who did not incur overdraft fees did so. Consequently, a teachable benchmark would be to maintain a cushion of at least $100 in your checking account. Instructionally, you could integrate this with stories and videos from individuals who did not keep $100 in their checking account, and suffered the consequences.

The inattention model (Grubb, 2015; Stango & Zinman, 2014) serves as a useful and empirically supported framework for characterizing susceptibility to overdraft fees. In fact, it could be applied to many other personal-finance issues such as late payment fees, not knowing terms of loans or interest rates, failure to shop around for insurance, and misplaced priorities when acquiring income, making purchases, or paying debts. Surprisingly, if we compare to Fernandes et al.’s (2014) findings, salience—merely bringing a matter to the student’s attention—may be more important than education when it comes to overdraft fees.

Finally, credit unions—which are widespread, not-for-profit alternatives to banks—might borrow a page from Thaler and Sunstein’s (2008) “nudge theory” by displaying members’ checking account balances in red with a warning message when below $100. We can expect Bank of America to continue their Better Money Habits educational program—corporate citizenship has little cost if Fernandes et al. (2014) holds true. However, being that bank overdrafts are a $30–40 billion annual industry (Stango & Zinman, 2014), nudging customers away from making the bank money is a hard sell to executives and shareholders. Thus, we might suggest another benchmark to financial students: Join a credit union. Even if FLE is dead, the outlook for research, innovation, and real progress in financial education are optimistic—but only if effective strategies are employed.

References

Drexler, A., Fischer, G., & Schoar, A. (2014). Keeping it simple: Financial literacy and rules of thumb. American Economic Journal: Applied Economics6(2), 1–31. https://doi.org/10.1257/app.6.2.1

English, L. M. (2014). Financial literacy: A critical adult education appraisal. New Directions for Adult and Continuing Education, 2014(141), 47–55. https://doi.org/10.1002/ace.20084

Fernandes, D., Lynch, J. G., Jr., & Netemeyer, R. G. (2014). Financial literacy, financial education, and downstream financial behaviors. Management Science, 60, 1861–1883. https://doi.org/10.1287/mnsc.2013.1849

Grubb, M. D. (2015). Consumer inattention and bill-shock regulation. Review of Economic Studies, 82, 219–257. https://doi.org/10.1093/restud/rdu024

Lusardi, A., Michaud, P.-C., & Mitchell, O. S. (2017). Optimal financial knowledge and wealth inequality. Journal of Political Economy, 125, 431–477. https://doi.org/10.1086/690950

Lusardi, A., & Mitchell, O. S. (2014). The economic importance of financial literacy: Theory and evidence. Journal of Economic Literature, 52, 5–44. https://doi.org/10.1257/jel.52.1.5

Mandell, L. (2012). School-based financial education: Not ready for prime time. CFA Institute Research Foundation, 2012(3), 107–124.

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  1. I refrain from calling them rules of thumb because of the association with domestic violence, even though the tale has been discredited. (Return to text)

Critique of “Exploring the spiritual needs of people dying of lung cancer or heart failure” by Murray et al. (2004)

This is a critique of a qualitative empirical study by Murray,
Kendall, Boyd, Worth, and Benton (2004)
that I wrote on 2017-11-01 for the class, EDF 7475: Qualitative Research in Education taught by David Boote, Ph.D. at University of Central Florida. Note that all three critiques of qualitative articles I wrote for this course were articles I personally selected.

EDF 7475 Article Critique Three
Richard Thripp
University of Central Florida

Article Citation

Murray, S. A., Kendall, M., Boyd, K., Worth, A., & Benton, T. F. (2004). Exploring the spiritual needs of people dying of lung cancer or heart failure: A prospective qualitative interview study of patients and their carers. Palliative Medicine, 18, 39–45. https://doi.org/10.1191/0269216304pm837oa

Summary

The authors interviewed Scottish patients (n = 40) and carers, longitudinally with quarterly, in-home interviews over a one-year period (each of 40 to 120 minutes in length). Patients all suffered terminal, inoperable lung cancer or advanced heart disease. This article focuses on interviewees’ spiritual needs while dealing with their illnesses, both mentally and physically. The authors used semi-structured interviews, ostensibly in the narrative tradition evidenced by prominent placement of interviewees’ quotes and resultant themes. Findings were that spiritual needs are important yet often go unfulfilled, in particular for heart failure patients, although this is often due to reluctance to seek help from chaplains and others.

Contribution to the Field

Terminally ill patients are a difficult population to gain access to. Despite this, the authors managed to interview 40 such patients from two different disease trajectories (inoperable lung cancer and heart failure), with multiple follow-ups and, in this article, a focus on spiritual needs which, by itself, is a difficult field of inquiry. Consequently, the authors’ research has a strong intrinsic contribution. While it joins a chorus of research saying that health professionals have too high a patient load and not enough time to provide individualized care, here, it is patients’ worth, dignity, and spiritual fulfillment that is on the line—intangibles that are complementary to medicine. A small but potentially important contribution is Patient 10’s complaint on Page 42 about bedrails and dignity—other research has shown bedrails are ineffective at preventing serious falls, and in the past decade they have been disappearing.

Strengths and Weaknesses

A primary weakness of this article is that the longitudinal element was not employed. On Pages 40–41 the authors outline attrition at each interview—the modal cause was death, with 18 of 28 attritions decimating the sample size from 40 in the first interview to 12 in the fourth interview. However, quotes, the narrative, and the discussion all talk about participants in general terms, with no indication of participants’ gender, Scottish heritage, how spirituality changed between interviews, or whether spirituality was different for survivors as compared to the 18 subjects who passed away during the study. This seems like a large, missed opportunity. The authors claim to follow the “techniques of narrative analysis” (p. 41)—and yet, do not weave together the different interviews of subjects at three-month intervals into cohesive narratives. What we have is more of an ad-hoc selection of quotes and themes that fails even to effectively delineate or allow comparisons between the narratives of carers and patients. Moreover, spiritual needs were just one of several foci for the authors’ interviews—although this facilitates multiple publications, it does not give us a holistic picture of the participants. Another weakness is the authors say “the social context of each interview was considered in the analysis of the resulting data” (p. 40) but with no elaboration—“trust us” is the implication.

A strength is that the authors elucidated stark contrasts between lung cancer and heart failure patients. Their underlying methodology to recruit 20 patients from each group was well-documented and contributed to these findings. Ethical concerns were admirably addressed with approval and informed consent at multiple levels, including written consent before each quarterly interview. Occasionally, the authors distilled the interviews into generalizations, such as heart failure patients being less spiritually fulfilled due in part to not knowing when they will die, unlike terminal lung cancer patients. Fortunately, these generalizations were backed up with thick description of themes derived from patient and carer quotes. In particular, interviewing many participants simultaneously with their carers revealed that carers may be harsh—for example: “I think he probably needs a gun”… [carer turns toward patient] … “if you were a horse, they would shoot you” (p. 43) was shocking. It would have been nice to see more from these informal, primarily family or spouse carers on what patients were like before their diagnosis, which health professionals would not typically know firsthand. Nonetheless, a big strength of this article is simply that this is a difficult and sensitive population to gain access to.

Contribution to My Understanding

This article helped me understand that qualitative research can be combined with quasi-experimental grouping. Here, the groups were terminal lung cancer and heart failure patients. Today, I talked with my doctoral adviser about dissertation designs in financial education—my area of interest. He suggested developing a training program with pre- and post-questionnaires to different populations—or, alternately, simple survey research—for instance, tax-advantaged investing could be surveyed and/or taught to low-, mid-, and high-income participants. The underlying thread of studying different groups is similar. This article had good examples of theory-guided thematic analysis, semi-structured interviewing techniques (see “useful prompts”; p. 40), and comparison and contrast of two groups (i.e., lung and heart patients). Although my research will mainly be quantitative, many principles remain the same (e.g., use of theory and avoiding loaded prompts). In particular, the “intermingling” of hope and despair (p. 42) among terminal patients may also be seen among the financially challenged, although less acutely. Finally, the authors drew on their connections, expertise and social acumen to gain access to this population. Because finance is a sensitive topic, there are parallels with my research interests.