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Leave the family finances to the math whiz

Janet Babin Nov 13, 2010

Leave the family finances to the math whiz

Janet Babin Nov 13, 2010


Tess Vigeland: We talk a lot about how money figures into relationships. First, you gotta address it. And then you gotta figure out what to do with it. And of course each partner is going to bring different money strengths and weaknesses to the table.

But a study published this week shows that at least one half of the couple better know their math. Marketplace’s Janet Babin reports from New York.

Janet Babin: What does it take to acquire family wealth? Brain power. But especially, good arithmetic, according to a new study from the Rand Corporation. Rand Economist Jim Smith says couples were asked three math questions — pretty simple ones, like:

Jim Smith: There are 10,000 people in a room. One percent of them, did something, you know, left, and the question would be how many people left the room.

If you answered 100, you’re right! But don’t get too excited. Smith would call you “average.”

Smith: Most people get one out of the three questions correct.

Those incorrect answers, they translated into a smaller nest egg. Couples who got all three questions right averaged $1.7 million of family wealth. Couples who got all of them wrong? They’d tucked away only $200,000.

Smith says what mattered most, was the numerical prowess of the husband.

Smith: Inside the family, when they say who’s calling the shots, who’s making the financial decisions, there is a male bias; it’s much more likely to be the husband than the wife.

The study didn’t consider same-sex couples, and respondents were all over 50.

Financial planner Susan John says among her younger clients, male domination of the family’s savings has begun to fade.

Susan John: You see much more shared decision-making and much more discussion, actually, around finances, which used to be another of the great taboo subjects.

John says that’s progress. But if you believe the Rand study, you might want to skip the chitchat, and turn the financial reins over to the family math whiz.

In New York, I’m Janet Babin for Marketplace Money.

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