Are 15-year-olds stupid about money?
Probably not all of them. But if some are smart, where are they the smartest? We'll find out this summer when the results of a big international survey of financial knowledge among 15-year old students is released by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. It's the first large-scale international study of its kind.
The survey is based on test results from 18 countries. Besides the United States and a collection of European nations, the findings will include places as diverse as Russia, China, Israel and Colombia.
"It's the first time we'll have a look across a pretty wide set of international data," said Ted Beck, president of the National Endowment for Financial Education. "Of course, we can't predict where we'll rank."
The U.S. typically doesn't do well in these kinds of comparisons. Last year when the international results for math and science were released, the US basically got a C minus.
"A lot of countries have pretty dedicated financial programs (in education), but we don't."
And we're likely to get our clock cleaned again. Maybe by Australia. It has personal finance as part of its school curriculum. Some in the U.S. have argued for it, but it hasn't happened. It could get more embarrassing, though, if historically communist-type countries like Russia and China finish ahead of our capitalist youth.
Despite the risk of egg-on-face, the test at least may prod a somewhat complacent nation into recognizing money is a big part of our lives—even if we spend very little time learning about it.
"A lot of countries have pretty dedicated financial programs (in education), but we don't," said Beck. "This survey will probably give us something to work on."
Indeed, beyond country-to-country comparisons about personal finance acumen among students, it will also provide information on demographic, gender and cultural difference.
There will be "a richness of results," said Annamaria Lusardi, a professor at George Washington University who is chairing the OECD committee compiling the test results. The committee is made up of various academics and government officials from treasury departments and central banks around the world.
No, she wouldn't even give a hint about the results and possible outcomes. But she does hope there will be debate about them once they are released July 9.
"Like reading and writing, financial literacy is an essential skill that people need in society," she said in an interview. "In the U.S. it's particularly important, especially in high school. This is where they are making one of the most important decisions in their life, whether to invest in their education."