Research and Statistics

Sorry, Mom: Poll says mothers losing financial influence


A scientific poll by finds that Americans say mothers are no longer their biggest financial influence. Instead, we rely on self-taught lessons

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Personal finance writer
Statistics enthusiast focused on data-driven content


As Americans arm themselves with bouquets of flowers and heartfelt greeting cards to show moms extra love this weekend, one thing won’t be on as many minds: mom’s money lessons.

A poll commissioned by found adults no longer consider mom their strongest financial influence. Instead, Americans say they rely more on themselves when it comes to developing financial habits and money management skills.

Moms and money advice

More than a quarter (28 percent) of all respondents said they rely on themselves. Mom was named as the biggest source of financial wisdom by 16 percent of respondents, followed closely by dad (14 percent).

Young adults are the exception. For millennials, moms play the most-significant financial teaching role, with 31 percent of respondents between the ages of 18 to 29 saying she is their biggest financial influence.

The vast amount of information on the Internet may be starting to replace some of her words of wisdom.

“After years of getting financial information from people around us, there has been a substantial shift to the resources we have available on the Internet,” said Mike Sullivan, director of education for the financial literacy nonprofit Take Charge America. “Instead of asking people for help, we go online. It’s just that simple.”

Self-sufficiency trumps parental guidance
This poll was conducted April 16-19, 2015, byPrinceton Survey Research Associates International, which used telephone interviews to connect with a nationally representative sample of 1,000 U.S. adults, approximately half men and half women, for the survey. The margin of error on the results is plus or minus 3.7 percentage points. See poll methodology.

Respondents were asked, “Which family member has had the most influence on your financial habits and on what you know about managing money?”

The numbers show a distinct change from 2011, the last time conducted the survey. Then, the headline read “Mom matters most in shaping our financial habits.” Mom and dad ranked No. 1 and No. 2 overall, respectively, as the top two influencers. “Self” was the third most popular answer in 2011, given by only 16 percent of respondents, indicating Americans have become more self-reliant when it comes to financial education.

The ‘YouTube Phenomenon’
For many experts, this shift comes as no surprise.

“It makes sense to me because the amount of free resources available on the Internet where people can do a quick Google search makes a huge difference from what was available in 2011 or even earlier,” said John Linfield, executive director for the Institute for Financial Literacy.

It doesn’t matter what you need to know — if it’s how to rewire your house or how to build a budget — you can find a four-minute video online on how to do it.

— Mike Sullivan
Take Charge America

Instead of a dinner table chat with parents, adults of any age can quickly get the information they need — whatever it may be.

“I call it ‘The YouTube Phenomenon,'” Sullivan said. “It doesn’t matter what you need to know — if it’s how to rewire your house or how to build a budget — you can find a four-minute video online on how to do it.”

Despite growing up around more technological resources than older generations, many millennials still say mom knows best, just as they reported in 2011, and that’s not a big surprise, according to Linfield.

“When in doubt, we call our moms,” he said. “She’s the one we go to when we need help. I know based on my experiences with my own kids, if they need to know something, they talk to mom first.”

Mom’s influence dwindles as children age
Even though nearly one-third of millennials said their mother was their biggest financial influence, most Americans aren’t on Team Mom. In several demographic categories, mom was just the fourth-most popular answer behind yourself, your spouse and your dad.

  • College graduates: Just 14 percent said their mother was their biggest influence.
  • Wealthy Americans: Just 14 percent of people with annual household incomes of $75,000 or greater picked mom.
  • Republicans: Just 10 percent of those identifying themselves as Republicans favor mom’s financial influence, compared to 20 percent of both Democrats and Independents.

“I think self-help has more to do with age than with education,” said Elaine King-Fuentes, founder of Family Money Matters, a nonprofit financial education organization. “You ask your family for help when you’re young and by the time you are in your 30s or 40s, you know quite a bit and can do more on your own.”

The poll data reflects this. Overall, the older the respondent, the more likely he or she was to claim self-influence when it came to finances. Twenty percent of Americans aged 30 to 49 said their biggest familial financial influence was one’s self. But the tendency was greatest among those who are 50 and older — 36 percent said they relied on themselves, almost twice as many as the second-place answer (19 percent said their spouse).

Adults with unemployed parents are also more likely (30 percent) to claim self-reliance when it comes to familial financial education, followed by their spouse (16 percent), then mom (14 percent) and dad (10 percent).

It makes sense that those with less financially stable parents would rely more on themselves or their spouse for money management information, according to Linfield. Also, those who witnessed firsthand the effects of the 2008 recession — especially teenagers — may be especially leery to go to others for financial advice, an indicator that the self-sufficiency trend may strengthen as time goes on.

“Many saw their friends, family, neighbors and communities deeply affected by a substantial downturn in the economy,” he explained. “I think based on that, people who saw their parents and others who were in an absolute panic and not prepared for a lot of negative headwind may be more cautious when it comes to asking for help with their own finances.”

Financial influences chart

Spouses play role in day-to-day finances, big-ticket purchases also asked which family member people are most likely to speak with regarding daily spending matters and big purchases. In both cases, millennials once again expressed a strong preference for their mother, but people over age 30 overwhelmingly said their spouse.

Talking about day-to-day money matters with a spouse was the most popular response for both genders and all races, education levels and those with annual incomes higher than $30,000. Mom comes in second and then self, bumping dad out of the top three.

Responses indicate spousal communication about financial matters is up compared to the last time the poll was conducted. Overall, 39 percent and 43 percent of respondents said would consult their spouse about daily or big purchases, respectively, up from 29 percent and 37 percent in 2011.

Evidence that more people are willing to go to their spouse with money matters than in previous years is a very positive trend, according to Linfield.

“It has an impact in overall relationships,” he said. “After all, money is the leading cause of divorce in this country and nearly half of all marriages end in divorce. So, the ability to talk to your spouse about your financial picture is good for the overall financial health of a family unit.”

The Internet is great, but so are family chats
As more people assert their financial independence, experts offer a few cautionary words of advice when it comes to relying on the plethora of online information for all things money-related.

The Web is helpful if you’re searching for something straightforward, such as “What is a FICO score?” but it can become less reliable if you use it to analyze complex and very personal financial issues, such as how to pay down massive credit card debt or build a sustainable budget, Sullivan said.

Things are constantly changing so I think overall families are more engaged than they were, but that is not the same as saying they are as engaged as they should be.

— John Linfield
Institute for Financial Literacy

“It’s like going to WebMD instead of seeing your doctor,” he said. “It’s a fine place to start and it may give you some general information, but at the same time you may misread it or assume the wrong things apply to your situation. Everyone has their own underlying story, which matters when it comes to managing your finances.”

It’s also hard to understand your current financial habits if you don’t know where they come from, which — whether you think so or not — is probably your family.

“We inherit not only our parent’s physical appearances, but also their financial values and attitudes,” King-Fuentes said. “The best way to know ourselves is to know about our relationships and where we are coming from.”

For example, “An online credit card guru might be able to tell you more about the technical side of credit cards than your mom, but when it comes to truly understanding how and why you use credit cards the way you do, you cannot find that information online,” King-Fuentes said. “You have to go back through your family history for that.”

This recent batch of poll data shows that while many people are starting to become more independent when it comes to learning about and practicing good financial habits, there still are many turning to family for support. This is good, but good can always be better, according to Linfield.

“There is always something new to learn,” he said. “Things are constantly changing so I think overall families are more engaged than they were, but that is not the same as saying they are as engaged as they should be.”

Mother’s Day might not be an ideal day to talk money with mom, but the sooner you can exchange bits of advice and stories of financial lessons learned, the better.

“I think families that communicate early on about financial matters are the ones that thrive at the end,” King-Fuentes said.

Poll methodology
The survey was conducted by Princeton Survey Research Associates International April 16-19, 2015. Princeton obtained telephone interviews with a nationally representative sample of 1,000 adults 18 years or older living in the continental U.S. Interviews were conducted by landline and cellphone in both English and Spanish. Statistical results are weighted to correct known demographic discrepancies such as age, sex, race, education and geographic location. The margin of sampling error for the complete set of weighted data is plus or minus 3.7 percentage points.

See related:6 tips for talking to your adult kids about your finances, What kids should know about money, at what age

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