I take on an old and misinterpreted explanation for people’s failure to adequately prepare for retirement in,“The Real Reason People Don’t Save Enough for Retirement.” Put simply, it’s because we are different. Some of us have characteristics that lead us to save more, others don’t.
What I’m discussing here are the Big Five Personality Traits, known as OCEAN (or CANOE), which stands for Openness, Conscientiousness, Extroversion, Agreeableness, and Neuroticism. Angela Duckworth, a professor of psychology at the University of Pennsylvania, has researched the connection between personality types and savings. Her findings are not tremendously surprising: those who are most conscientious--efficient, organized, and careful--are most likely to be successful savers.
What does this mean for retirement policy? Victorian-era social reformers enacted financial literacy campaigns, especially for young girls, to thrust conscientious upon them. Today, most boards of education impose compound interest exercises on their elementary school students to imprint good saving behavior in their DNA. Several states make their fourth graders play stock-market and IRA-inspired games in class.
Changing personalities is hard at best. And is it a worthy goal? Diverse personalities produce the variation in opinions, ideas, and products that makes life interesting and exciting. Instead, we should implement retirement reform that is effective regardless of personality type by creating Guaranteed Retirement Accounts mandatory, pooled savings accounts into which workers and their employers contribute every year. GRAs would allow Americans to enjoy the dignified retirements they deserve, regardless where they come down in the “Big Five.”