What do consumers know about the economy?

A test of minimal economic knowledge in Germany
  • Inga WobkerEmail author
  • Peter Kenning
  • Marco Lehmann-Waffenschmidt
  • Gerd Gigerenzer
Research Article


This research investigates Minimal Economic Knowledge (MEK) of consumers in Germany—that is, basic economic knowledge needed for understanding and successfully participating in the economy. First we develop a scale for measuring MEK in four economic domains: finance, labour economics, consumption, and public economics, testing for three kinds of knowledge within each domain, namely facts, concepts, and causal relationships. Second, we conduct an empirical study to test MEK level and influence of demographic drivers in a representative sample of German adult consumers (N = 1,314), with a mean result of only 59.4 points (of 100), indicating a considerable lack of even minimal economic knowledge. And third, using a subsample, we study factors that result in differences in the level of MEK showing among others that the choice of “sensationalist” versus “serious” news sources, both on television and in newspapers, is associated with a loss of about 10 MEK points, while, surprisingly, participating in an economics course did not enhance minimal economic knowledge. The article closes with a discussion of implications for consumer policy-making.


Consumer education Economic literacy Laypersons Minimal economic knowledge Drivers 



We would like to thank an anonymous reviewer for very valuable feedback, Deborah C. Nester for proofreading and the experts of the Delphi study for enabling us to develop this MEK questionnaire and for supportive discussions on the topic.

Supplementary material

3_2014_869_MOESM1_ESM.docx (53 kb)
Supplementary material 1 (DOCX 53 kb)


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Copyright information

© Bundesamt für Verbraucherschutz und Lebensmittelsicherheit (BVL) 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  • Inga Wobker
    • 1
    Email author
  • Peter Kenning
    • 1
  • Marco Lehmann-Waffenschmidt
    • 2
  • Gerd Gigerenzer
    • 3
  1. 1.Zeppelin UniversityFriedrichshafenGermany
  2. 2.Dresden University of TechnologyDresdenGermany
  3. 3.Max Planck Institute for Human DevelopmentCenter for Adaptive Behavior and CognitionBerlinGermany

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