View this email in your browser

Behavior Change for Good Fall Newsletter

Happy Fall! We’re excited to share our team’s latest work, including preliminary results from our COVID-19 vaccination sweepstakes in Philadelphia. We also hope you’ll join us for our new virtual series launching this fall: Authors@BCFG. You’ll find more details below!

Katy Milkman and Angela Duckworth
BCFG Co-Directors

New 2021-22 Behavior Change for Good Virtual Event Series: Authors@BCFG

We’re thrilled to announce the launch of our new virtual event series: Authors@BCFG. This series will feature interviews with BCFG Team Scientists who have written new books aimed at a popular audience. We hope you’ll join us for these exciting conversations!  Register at

COVID-19 Vaccination Sweepstakes: Results Released


BCFG has released the results of its evaluation of the Philly Vax Sweepstakes, a unique city sweepstakes that we designed in partnership with CHIBE. The evaluation released in August suggests that vaccine lotteries are not a particularly effective means of motivating inoculation at this stage in the pandemic. These results added critical fuel to the argument that encouraging vaccination will require more aggressive policy tools than lotteries: “An Experiment Evaluating the Impact of Large-Scale, High-Payoff Vaccine Regret Lotteries.”

Selected News Coverage of Work by BCFG Team Scientists

Spotlight On Team Scientist Olivia Mitchell

Dr. Olivia S. Mitchell is the International Foundation of Employee Benefit Plans Professor, as well as Professor of Insurance/Risk Management and Business Economics/Policy; Executive Director of the Pension Research Council; and Director of the Boettner Center on Pensions and Retirement Research; all at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania. 

BCFG: Much of your research is on retirement savings. How has the COVID-19 pandemic affected people’s retirement savings decisions?

Olivia Mitchell: We explored the initial impact of the pandemic on the economic wellbeing of Americans age 45-75. To assess how this group was affected by COVID-19, we evaluated their financial fragility, by which we mean the capacity to meet an unexpected mid-size expense within a month’s time. In addition, we examined the roles played by financial literacy, income and shocks to income, and other factors related to financial fragility. In our survey, 18.9% of respondents reported themselves to be financially fragile, indicating that even with the promise of substantial stimulus payments, about one in five older respondents reported they could not handle a mid-size unexpected expense.

BCFG:  Were there differences across demographic groups?

Mitchell: Interestingly, younger respondents under age 60 were more fragile than older ones, while the oldest group (age 70+) was the least financially fragile. This is likely because the oldest group depends more heavily on Social Security income and hence is less susceptible to earnings and unemployment risk. Women were 10 percentage points more likely to report themselves as fragile (25.8%) compared to men (15.6%), while African Americans were 15 percentage points and Hispanics 10 percentage points more likely to be fragile than Whites. It is also interesting to note that self-reported financial fragility was inversely related to financial literacy, suggesting that financial literacy could help people better prepare for unexpected expenses.

BCFG: You recently did another study on financial knowledge and financial well-being among American women. What did you learn?

Mitchell: We found that financial knowledge is quite low among White women, with only 21% able to answer all three very basic financial literacy questions we posed. Black and Hispanic women scored even lower, with only 9% of Black and 13% of Hispanic women deemed financially literate. These low scores were in part attributable to many “do not know” responses to the financial knowledge questions. We believe that women often lack confidence in their answers, and it could also indicate that they were aware of what they did not know. Awareness of their lack of knowledge could spur participation in financial education programs and knowledge acquisition.

On average, financial well-being (FWB) scores were quite close for Black, Hispanic, and White women yet the factors contributing to these outcomes were not the same.

BCFG:  How so?  What differed across these demographic groups?

Mitchell: Earning a perfect score on the financial literacy questions was strongly positively related to greater FWB for White and Hispanic women, yet for Black women it was negative. Interestingly, all three groups of women reported being offered financial education at similar rates: 24% of Whites, 28% of Blacks, and 27% of Hispanics, and conditional on having been offered it, about three-quarters of each group participated. Nevertheless, the resulting financial literacy differences indicate that this education did not improve all groups’ FWB equally. 

We also learned that, for White women, unemployment was negatively associated with FWB, yet it was not significant for Black or Hispanic women.

BCFG:  What do you think explains this?

Mitchell: One possible explanation is that having a job has less of a positive effect on FWB for Black and Hispanic women. That is, even when they are working, Black and Hispanic people have less access to employer-sponsored benefits including healthcare coverage and paid time off. Family structure also has different impacts on Black, Hispanic, and White women. For instance, Black and Hispanic women were more likely to have financially-dependent children, yet this did not strongly contribute to lower well-being. By contrast, though White women were less likely to have financially-dependent children, when they did, the children contributed to a larger negative impact on mothers’ FWB. This might arise because some parents will limit their own consumption to save for their children’s education, while in other cultures, parents may instead expect that children will provide for them in retirement. The negative association between financially-dependent children and FWB for White women suggests that this group is more heavily influenced by the first pathway. The lack of significant correlation between financially dependent children and financial well-being for Black and Hispanic women suggests they tend to be more influenced by the second pathway. 

BCFG: What applications of your recent research are you most excited about? 

Mitchell: Our results show that a “one size fits all” approach is unlikely to address financial well-being deficits across the board, in view of the very different patterns we have uncovered. Instead, targeted programs are likely to better serve people who differ in terms of financial sophistication. Specifically, financial education programs must direct more attention to the specific needs of Black and Hispanic women in terms of their financial well-being. For example, a financial education curriculum can inform participants about the costs associated with alternative financial services or credit cards, but it will succeed better if it acknowledges the particular constraints facing Black and Hispanic women, such as access to lower-cost credit. Programs could be designed with the knowledge that Black and Hispanic women may have economic needs and perspectives about personal finance that differ from those of White women.

*This interview has been edited for clarity and length.

Learn more about Olivia's research here.

Books: New Releases Written by BCFG Team Scientists

We're pleased to share four new books written by Team Scientists. In The Family Firm, Emily Oster offers an economic framework for optimizing parenting decisions. Nobel prize winner Richard Thaler and Cass Sunstein reboot their best-selling book, Nudge: The Final Edition. Cass Sunstein also dives into the negative effects of red tape on people's well-being and how to counteract it in Sludge. And Jay Van Bavel teams with Dominic Packer in The Power of Us, to explain how much the groups we belong to shape our identities.


Hear More From BCFG Team Scientists in These Podcasts

Freakonomics: All You Need is Nudge

Team Scientist Richard Thaler talks with Stephen Dubner about how his nudge theories have held up over time, and why Thaler believes nudges are more important to behavior change than ever.

People I (Mostly) Admire: Sendhil Mullainathan Explains How to Generate an Idea a Minute

BCFG Team Scientists Sendhil Mullainathan and Steve Levitt talk on Steve's popular podcast about why machines can't replace human intelligence and why it is important to value good ideas generated by others before developing your own.

Hidden Brain: You, But Better

BCFG Co-Director Katy Milkman talks with Shankar Vedantam about how, even though change can be hard, it is possible to teach our brains to change our behavior for good.

About BCFG

The Behavior Change for Good Initiative at the University of Pennsylvania is co-led by Psychology Professor Angela Duckworth and Wharton Professor Katy Milkman. BCFG unites a world-class, interdisciplinary team of academic experts with leading organizational partners to advance the science and practice of behavior change.

We’re always interested in hearing about new areas to explore and potential collaborations. Contact us anytime.
Copyright © 2021 Behavior Change for Good, All rights reserved.

Want to change how you receive these emails?
You can update your preferences or unsubscribe from this list.

Email Marketing Powered by Mailchimp