The government may need to change its approach to the savings "crisis" debate, suggests academic research into reasons why people save and find it difficult to save.
Commenting on the findings of research into human behaviour and financial services, Paul Webley, professor of economic psychology and deputy vice-chancellor at the University of Exeter, says the issues start at an early age.
Children may be more malleable in terms of establishing savings patterns, but they are learning their skills from parents who show little interest insaving today for a rainy day tomorrow.
Until the government gives greater weight to the psychology of saving, it may be that such patterns persist.
Cultural and other reasons mean most Brits increasingly save to spend in the future, rather than save to boosts financial security in future - asthey do, for example, in Italy, Webley says.
"People in the UK have hedonistic reasons for saving," he says.
"Savings are seen as a means to an end."
And this is not a problem of adults only. Experiments with children to encourage savings show when faced with a financial problem most revert totrying to negotiate an outcome rather than simply decide to save more money.
For adults there is also the question of whether to bother saving if the state were to provide a good pension.
"If people can borrow, why save?" Webley's research asks.
One problem for policymakers is people when faced with a problem will try different ways to solve that problem. That applies equally to the savings "crisis", meaning people may not see savings as the only solution to poverty in retirement.
People are also liable to overestimate the amount they are able to save, even if they say they are willing to save. Meanwhile, it can be awfully difficult to stop oneself spending.
Policymakers must deal with so-called optimism bias, the psychological state whereby people rate themselves more highly than they actually are. Forexample, Webley says, most people would when asked rank themselves as better lovers than they actually are.
Such optimism bias affects expectations of earnings, resulting in people borrowing more and saving less.
Procrastination is another human trait affecting the savings crisis debate. People will tend to put off things they find difficult.
"People follow the path of least resistance," Webley says.
Despite these traits, governments have large sway over outcomes. Webley argues people's behaviour can be dealt with through "default options", which in the case of long-term savings would mean mandatory pension schemes, but with an opt out clause.
Following the path-of-least-resistance theme, this would represent a positive default in terms of savings.IFAonline
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