Norway, Canada Lead the Pack
Norway, with the highest per capita GNI, net disposable income and the lowest income inequality, has the highest overall financial well-being. Ireland, with a high GNI and low-income inequality, scores just below Canada on overall well-being despite having the second-lowest disposable income. Australia has a high GNI, net disposable income and Gini Coefficient, yet shares the lowest overall score with New Zealand.
Based on these findings, the researchers infer that at the national level, the financial well-being of a country’s population is linked with the level of income inequality (Gini coefficient) and not the average income. Global studies have outlined the social, political and economic consequences of growing income inequality such as slowing GDP growth, lower well-being and income volatility, previously experienced primarily in low-income, developing contexts. The link between income inequality and overall financial well-being highlighted by this research, could explain why Australia, despite having the second-highest disposable income and universal access to finance, finishes last in class. Prioritizing policy and action to address income inequality may therefore be an important enabler of increasing overall financial well-being in Australia.
At the micro-level, research shows that individual socio-economic factors (e.g. household income, coping with a drop in income, whether parents discussed money) and financial behaviors directly influence financial well-being. Behaviors are driven by financial knowledge and experience; confidence and attitudes; and personality traits, with the latter often overriding knowledge in the financial decision-making process. Three behaviors — spending restraint, active saving, and not borrowing for daily expenses — one’s financial locus of control — the degree to which people believe that they have control over the outcome of events in their lives — and confidence exert the strongest influence on individual financial well-being, with “active saving” and “not borrowing for daily expenses” emerging as the best predictors of financial well-being.
Individual socio-economic factors and financial behaviors directly influence financial well-being.
The data shows that Norway scores the highest on all financial behaviors (except spending restraint) as does Canada, sharing the joint highest score for financial confidence. Irish participants have the lowest spending restraint, and also have the lowest levels of financial confidence. Respondents from Australia and New Zealand have the lowest financial locus of control – they are also the least likely to be active savers, and the most likely to borrow to meet daily expenses.
Kimpson’s research highlights that income remaining constant, policymakers aiming to influence how people use money must tackle their attitudes and personality not their knowledge, via a wide range of financial capability-building interventions. The results for Australia (based on a sample of 3,578 adults) show that the priority should be to improve the two lowest-scoring behaviors which are also the biggest predictors of financial well-being, i.e. “active saving” and “not borrowing for daily expenses.”
What Does this Mean for Australia?
So what does this mean for those working to improve financial inclusion, resilience and well-being on the ground in Australia? The finding that higher income inequality is driving lower overall financial well-being resonates with local challenges which have dominated Australia’s economic outlook – high growth which has not been equally distributed; rising cost of living and stagnant wages eating into disposable incomes; under-employment and casualization — interlinked factors which can explain why financial exclusion and low financial resilience have persisted, despite considerable efforts to address them.
The recommendation to prioritize “active saving” and “not borrowing for daily expenses” in order to improve overall financial well-being mirror local calls for action, as rising household debt coupled with low savings have long been identified by regulators and consumer advocates alike, as key levers for policy and decision-makers to influence. Targeting the poorest 20 percent of Australians, the ‘working poor’ as well as those who are out of work also makes sense, as research on those on low incomes has found that pathways to employment are the key to improving financial resilience.
Australia needs a comprehensive strategy to address macro-level challenges including high income and wealth inequality, rising cost of living and pathways to education and employment, while simultaneously fostering grassroots-level change focused on enabling individuals, families and communities to move away from financial hardship and crisis towards stability and income generation. Catalyzing such “system-wide” social change will require all sectors in Australia to work together over the longer-term, in collaboration with global partners with a common mission to improve financial lives for all.
This is where cross-sector collaborations such as the Financial Inclusion Action Plan program, led by Good Shepherd, which aims to promote inclusive growth and reduce inequality by enabling organizations to take practical action to increase financial well-being within their own sphere of influence, and the Thriving Communities Partnership, which aims to enable fair access to the modern essential services people need to thrive, can lead the way to longer-term change in Australia.