Are Americans really that bad with money?

People in the U.S. are in debt and terrible at investing—but so is nearly everyone else.

Americans, they have so much debt. They have so few affordable housing options. They have such spotty retirement-savings programs.

So much, so few, but is it any worse than anywhere else? Other rich nations keep good records of similar statistics, enabling researchers to answer an important question: Which financial habits are American anomalies, and which are present in nearly every other developed country? Or, to put the question in a less exceptionalist way: What is it about certain countries’ economies that encourage some tendencies while stifling others?

As economists have studied the habits of households around the world, they’ve found two personal-finance patterns that are virtually universal in the developed world. The first is that across countries, higher income, wealth, and education are associated with investing in the stock market. And the second is that people make the wisest financial decisions after they emerge from early adulthood and before they grow old.

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