Importance of Numeracy as a Risk Factor for Elder Financial Exploitation in a Community Sample

Authors: Stacey Wood, Department of Psychology at Scripps College; Pi-Ju Liu, Department of Psychology at University of SanFrancisco, California; Yaniv Hanoch, School of Psychology at University of Plymouth; Sara Estevez-Cores, Department of Psychology at Scripps College

Publication: Journals of Gerontology: Psychological Science

Year: 2015

Focus Area: 2000 to present, Aging, Decision Making, Financial Literacy

Relevance: Numeracy is the capacity to understand and manipulate basic mathematical concepts. Older adults tend to be less numerate than younger adults and therefore may be at higher risk for poor decision making and financial exploitation.

Summary: In the current study, the authors interviewed a sample of older adults ages 60+ to identify risk factors for financial exploitation. They included executive functioning, general cognitive functioning, and numeracy. It was hypothesized that lower scores on all of the cognitive measures will be a critical risk factor for higher scores on the fraud susceptibility measure, particularly lower numeracy.

  • A total of 201 community-dwelling adults aged 60 and older were recruited to participate.
  • Less numerate participants reported risk of experiencing financial exploitation significantly more frequently.
  • Numeracy remained a significant predictor in the presence of other risk factors, including dependency, physical and mental health, as well as overall cognition.

Author Abstract: Objectives: To examine the role of numeracy, or comfort with numbers, as a potential risk factor for financial elder exploitation in a community sample. Method: Individually administered surveys were given to 201 independent, community-dwelling adults aged 60 and older. Risk for financial elder exploitation was assessed using the Older Adult Financial Exploitation Measure (OAFEM). Other variables of interest included numeracy, executive functioning, and other risk factors identified from the literature. Assessments were completed individually at the Wood Lab at Scripps College in Claremont, CA and neighboring community centers. Results: After controlling for other variables, including education, lower numeracy was related to higher scores on the OAFEM consistent with higher risk for financial exploitation. Self-reported physical and mental health, male gender, and younger age were also related to increased risk. Conclusions: Results indicated that numeracy is a significant risk factor for elder financial exploitation after controlling for other commonly reported variables. These findings are consistent with the broader literature relating numeracy to wealth and debt levels and extend them to the area of elder financial exploitation.

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