Panel Paper: A Randomized, Controlled Trial (RCT) of a Financial Literacy Curriculum for Survivors of Intimate Partner Violence

Thursday, November 6, 2014 : 3:25 PM
Taos (Convention Center)

*Names in bold indicate Presenter

Andrea Hetling, Judy L. Postmus and Gretchen Hoge, Rutgers University
Financial literacy programs are quickly expanding across the U.S. in terms of numbers, size, and target populations. Policymakers and advocates view financial literacy programs as a way to improve citizens’ economic well-being through the attainment of knowledge and better financial decision-making.  Some believe that certain subgroups particularly stand to benefit from these programs and regard financial literacy as an effective tool for combating persistently high poverty rates.  This growth and popularity, however, has only partially been guided by best practices and evidence-based knowledge as few rigorous evaluations of such programs have been conducted.

This research project evaluates an intervention designed and implemented for survivors of intimate partner violence, an economically vulnerable population who are often victims of economic abuse and who, like low-income women in general, have limited access to and previous experience with financial resources. Using panel data from a randomized controlled trial (RCT) of the curriculum, the paper examines the treatment effects of the curriculum on two outcomes: 1) a scale of financial literacy, which included questions about credit, investing and long-term planning, obtaining resources, and joint assets; and 2) a scale of financial behaviors, which included questions about savings practices, paying off debt, and making and following a budget. The sample (n=300) includes women from 13 agencies in seven U.S. states and Puerto Rico. After completing a baseline interview, participants were randomly assigned within each agency to a treatment group who received the curriculum or to a control group who did not.  Posttest interviews were conducted after approximately 2 months, 8 months and 14 months.

Findings, based on repeated measures ANOVA and difference-in-differences models, indicate a strong effect of the curriculum on both knowledge and behavior. The difference-in-difference analyses produced consistent treatment outcome estimates, even when controlling for relevant covariates and average within-subjects time trends. The models indicate that the program participation increased a participant’s perceived knowledge by about one point on a 5-point financial literacy scale and increased a participant’s self-reported financial behaviors a little over a half of point on a 5.0-point financial behavior scale.  Assuming a starting point of average, or a 3.0 on the scale, this change translates into a 33 percent improvement for financial literacy and a 20 percent improvement for financial behaviors. As one of the few RCTs of a financial literacy curriculum, the findings can inform state and federal policies and funding decisions on financial literacy programs.