Dissertation project

Dissertation project:  As nationalist and protectionist sentiments across the world continue to increase, this dissertation explores the role that financial and economy literacy plays in shaping individual economic policy preferences. More specifically, financial and economic literacy affects the accuracy with which an individual can evaluate the short-term and long-term expected costs and benefits of a certain policy: financially literate individuals are more likely to more accurately predict the effect of a specific economic policy on their economic well-being. Conversely, financially and economically illiterate individuals are less likely to be accurate at estimating the effects of a policy on their economic well-being and, as a result, they may be more likely to rely on other factors, such as political ideology or cues from reference groups to make their policy decisions. To test my hypotheses, I use a multi-method approach that includes observational data from an existing survey, the British Election Survey (BES), original data collection in Italy, and a classroom experiment.

My dissertation consists of four papers.

The first paper is available here:

Magistro, B. (2020) Financial literacy and support for free trade in the U.K.
(The World Economy 2020, vol. 43, no. 8: pp. 2050-2069)

Recent events in Europe and the United States suggest that open economies are increasingly under stress as nationalist, protectionist, and populist political entrepreneurs are gaining significant ground across the Western world. Many theories have been formulated as to which factors are more likely to explain such policy preferences. The hypothesis tested in this paper is that financial literacy affects economic policy preferences. I analyze data from the British Election Study and test my theory on support for free trade in the United Kingdom. Findings suggest that financial literacy does affect economic policy preferences. On average, financially literate individuals are more likely to think that free trade is good for the British economy. Furthermore, this is true regardless of economic self‐interest, as both financially literate winners and losers from globalization are more likely to support free trade than their illiterate counterparts.

The second paper is available here:

The Influence of Financial and Economic Literacy on Policy Preferences in Italy (Forthcoming at Economics & Politics)

As populist and protectionist sentiments across the world increase, this paper explores
the role that financial and economic literacy plays in shaping individual economic policy
preferences. Analyzing original survey data collected in Italy, this study shows that financially and economically literate individuals, regardless of their economic self-interest, are more likely to prefer remaining in the Eurozone, to favor free trade, EU immigration, non-EU immigration, and the Fornero pension reform. The author provides preliminary evidence that the lack of differential effects between financially and economically literate winners and losers from globalization and pension reform is driven by longer time horizons. Finally, the author examines different ways to measure financial and economic literacy and finds that there is no evidence of a similar effect when looking at general education, suggesting that financial and economic literacy has distinctive features that more closely capture an individual’s ability to evaluate policies.

The third paper is available here:

Party cues or policy information? The differential influence of financial and economic literacy on economic policy preferences
(Forthcoming at the Journal of Public Policy)

Political economy theories tell us that policy preferences are driven by economic self-interest and that party cues can be a rational decision-making strategy. But does citizens’ ability to assess their self-interest influence the sources of information they rely on and their policy choices? I hypothesize that financial and economic literacy influences the type of information individuals are responsive to, and ultimately, their economic policy preferences. Using a survey experiment on price controls in Italy, I manipulate whether citizens receive party cues or policy information. I show that financially and economically literate individuals are more likely to understand information concerning the costs and benefits of the policy under analysis, and to be responsive to it. This is not the case for financially and economically illiterate individuals, who are more receptive to party cues, even when such cues are misleading and lead them to support welfare-reducing policies.

The fourth paper is available here

Becoming patient: A classroom experiment on the effect of financial literacy on time preference

Time preference, the ability to delay gratification, matters for a wide range of life outcomes. Patience is relevant in the psychological, economic, and political spheres, as it is shown to affect financial and political behavior. But little is known about factors that explain variation in the degree to which individuals’ discount future payoffs. This paper investigates whether financial literacy changes people’s time preferences. Existing empirical research is plagued by a classic endogeneity problem — do more patient people have a propensity to acquire financial literacy, or does financial literacy actually lower their discount rate? In this paper I address this fundamental question about time preferences by conducting a classroom experiment on a sample of 216 undergraduate students. The results indicate that financial literacy, through learning concepts such as the time value of money, inflation, and capital budgeting, lowers discount rates, and that there is not a selection effect into finance and economics. Furthermore, results show that more education in general does not change time preferences, only financial literacy does.

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