Does Higher Financial Literacy Lead to Better Portfolio Performance?

//, Academic Research Insight/Does Higher Financial Literacy Lead to Better Portfolio Performance?

Does Higher Financial Literacy Lead to Better Portfolio Performance?

Financial Literacy and Portfolio Dynamics

  • Milo Bianchi
  • Journal of Finance, forthcoming
  • A version of this paper can be found here
  • Want to read our summaries of academic finance papers? Check out our Academic Research Insight category.

What are the research questions?

The literature shows that households experiencing lower risk-adjusted returns tend to be less literate (Von Gaudecker, 2015). But what are the mechanisms underlying the relationship between financial literacy and returns? This paper seeks to answer that question.
The authors analyze data from a large French financial institution on a widespread investment product ( representing the majority of the wealth of its clients) allocating between risky and non-risky assets from 2002 to 2011. They also have access to results of a survey taken by the product clients ( 7% response rate), which allows them to construct an index of financial literacy for each investor.
They ask the following research questions:
  1. How does financial literacy relate to portfolio return?
  2. How does financial literacy relate to portfolio rebalancing choices?

What are the Academic Insights?

The following insights are derived from the study:

  1. Controlling for various measures of portfolio risk, more literate households in the sample experience approximately 0.4% higher yearly returns compared to the least literate.
  2. In terms of the relationship between financial literacy and portfolio choices, there are three main findings:
    1. The first result is that more financial literate households do not always take more risk but their risk exposures vary with market regimes ( for example, a 1% increase in the expected excess return of risky assets is associated with a 2% increase in the risky share for each unit of financial literacy).
    2. The second result is that the least financial literate households passive rebalancing (based on market moves) is more important (64% of the total change in the risky share) compared to active rebalancing. Differently, for the most literate households passive rebalancing accounts for only 30%.
    3. The third result is that more literate households are more likely to act as contrarians (they tend to move allocations to funds that experienced lower returns in the past).

Why does it matter?

Another important study, which uncovers novel mechanisms that relate financial literacy to portfolio management dynamics and outcomes.

The Most Important Chart from the Paper:

The results are hypothetical results and are NOT an indicator of future results and do NOT represent returns that any investor actually attained. Indexes are unmanaged, do not reflect management or trading fees, and one cannot invest directly in an index.


We match administrative panel data on portfolio choices with survey measures of financial literacy. When we control for portfolio risk, the most literate households experience 0.4% higher annual returns than the least literate households. Distinct portfolio dynamics are the key determinant of this difference. More literate households hold riskier positions when expected returns are higher, they more actively rebalance their portfolios and do so in a way that holds their risk exposure relatively constant over time, and they are more likely to buy assets that provide higher returns than the assets that they sell.

  • The views and opinions expressed herein are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Alpha Architect, its affiliates or its employees. Our full disclosures are available here. Definitions of common statistics used in our analysis are available here (towards the bottom).
  • Join thousands of other readers and subscribe to our blog.
  • This site provides NO information on our value ETFs or our momentum ETFs. Please refer to this site.

Elisabetta Basilico, PhD, CFA
Dr. Elisabetta Basilico is a seasoned investment professional with an expertise in "turning academic insights into investment strategies." Research is her life's work and by combing her scientific grounding in quantitative investment management with a pragmatic approach to business challenges, she’s helped several institutional investors achieve stable returns from their global wealth portfolios. Her expertise spans from asset allocation to active quantitative investment strategies. Holder of the Charter Financial Analyst since 2007 and a PhD from the University of St. Gallen in Switzerland, she has experience in teaching and research at various international universities and co-author of articles published in peer-reviewed journals. She and co-author Tommi Johnsen are currently writing a book on research-backed investment ideas. You can find additional information at Academic Insights on Investing.
Yes No
This website uses cookies and third party services. Settings Ok


We use “cookies” on this site. A cookie is a piece of data stored on a site visitor’s hard drive to help us improve your access to our site and identify repeat visitors to our site. For instance, when we use a cookie to identify you, you would not have to log in a password more than once, thereby saving time while on our site. Cookies can also enable us to track and target the interests of our users to enhance the experience on our site. Usage of a cookie is in no way linked to any personally identifiable information on our site. Some of our business partners may use cookies on our site (for example, advertisers). However, we have no access to or control over these cookies.

Embedded Content

Articles on this Site may include embedded content (e.g. videos, images, articles, etc.). Embedded content from other websites behaves in the exact same way as if the visitor has visited the other website.These websites may collect data about you, use cookies, embed additional third-party tracking, and monitor your interaction with that embedded content, including tracking your interaction with the embedded content if you have an account and are logged in to that website.