Poor numeracy puts older people at risk of financial exploitation

Older people with poor numeracy skills could be at greater risk of financial exploitation, a joint UK and US study has warned.

Researchers from Plymouth University and Scripps College in California found that individuals with poor numeracy were more prone to certain biases when making decisions, including a greater risk of being manipulated verbally by those around them and by their mood. The study also found that because individuals with low level numeracy were less likely to engage with or interpret numerical information accurately, they are more likely to make conclusions that are not in their best interests, particularly when it comes to money.

The study focussed on people aged 60 to 95 living within the community in California. The participants were asked a series of questions to establish to what extent they may have been exploited financially within the previous year, as well as a series of anonymous questions relating to their education, marital status, physical and mental health and ability to live independently. Less numerate participants reported experiencing financial exploitation significantly more frequently, regardless of other risk factors.

“With millions of older adults experiencing financial exploitation, it is vital to gain a better understanding of what protects them from it,” explained the authors of the study Stacey Wood, Liu Pi-Ju and Dr Yaniv Hanoch. “Our data reveal that numeracy plays a key role, with high numeracy found to be a significant predictor of decreased risk after controlling for other demographic variables.”

National Numeracy welcomes the findings of this study, which only goes further to prove how vital numeracy skills are to all areas of life, particularly when it comes to financial inclusion and making good decisions.

Chief Executive of National Numeracy Mike Ellicock said:
"We use maths in every aspect of our lives. Decisions in life are often based on numerical information, so to make the best choices we all need to be numerate.”

For more information, take a look at Why Numeracy is Important

Read the research in full