If you pay any attention at all to the financial press, you’ve seen articles about the average American’s lack of retirement preparedness. And you’ve read articles about who’s to blame—very often, it’s the greedy folks on Wall Street with their high and opaque fees that rob people of the million-dollar retirement plan balances they surely would have accumulated otherwise.
You’ve also seen articles about today’s young adults and how fearful they are to invest. The explanation, we are usually told, is the jarring experience of the Great Recession that left debt-laden recent grads with few job prospects and the conclusion that investing in the stock market is akin to gambling.
So it was refreshing to read the results of a comprehensive new study that found the same problems but pointed to a different cause—one that should be of particular interest to parents of young children.
The 2015 BlackRock Global Investor Pulse Survey asserted that much of the cause of everything from older workers’ lack of retirement preparedness to younger people’s fear of investing has its roots in childhood.
Americans were raised to value financial discipline, but not financial growth. Our strongest childhood memories of money usually include savings-related activities, like opening up a bank account (42%) or putting money into a piggy bank (39%).
As adults, we hold onto this deeply positive connection to saving — an activity Americans chiefly describe as “secure” — as opposed to investing, which people mostly view as “risky.”
For many Americans, it seems as if investing represents breaking into that cherished piggy bank, rather than the opportunity to achieve long-term goals such as retirement.
The BlackRock survey asked people across the generations about any financial lessons they could remember learning when they were children.
The top two “lessons” Americans are most likely to remember are their parents teaching them to save for a rainy day (44%) and to avoid living beyond their means (48%), compared to only 1 in 10 who learned to contribute the maximum to a 401(k)… Only 5% of investors learned about different investment products from their parents — consistent across all generations.
With virtually no knowledge of investing because it typically isn’t taught at home or in school, what else would a young person conclude after seeing the market lose more than 37% in 2008 but that investing is gambling? When you then take people without much knowledge of investing and expose them to “news” programs overtly describing investing as gambling, is it any wonder that less than half of all American adults have any money invested in the market?
If you’re the parent of a child living at home—or the parent or co-worker of a young adult—why not open up a conversation about investing? You don’t have to be an expert on the topic. Just facilitating a conversation—introducing investing concepts, such as compound interest and asset allocation, and sharing some of your experience—could do wonders for raising a new generation of knowledgeable, confident, and successful investors.
How much did you learn about investing when you were growing up? If your answer is, “Not much,” how old were you when you developed an interest in investing and what was the catalyst?