Gaining financial independence is considered a key component of the transition to adulthood. Yet we know little about how adolescents learn to navigate the financial world or how social class shapes this process. Drawing on interviews with 52 parents and adolescents in the United States, this study explored how children learn about finances from their parents. Middle-class parents in the sample were more proactive in teaching their children about finances. Working-class parents, however, often felt unequipped to teach financial skills and were more likely to shelter their children from financial matters. Ultimately, middle-class adolescents felt more at ease when navigating financial institutions, while working-class adolescents expressed greater uncertainty and were left to grapple with imperfect and sometimes contradictory information about finances.
This is a preview of subscription content, log in to check access.
Buy single article
Instant access to the full article PDF.
Price includes VAT for USA
Subscribe to journal
Immediate online access to all issues from 2019. Subscription will auto renew annually.
This is the net price. Taxes to be calculated in checkout.
Income is reported in US currency.
In most cases, only one parent in each family was interviewed. However, partners John and Alex were interviewed jointly.
In cases where parents were married, information gathered about both parents was used to determine social class. In these cases, the parent with the highest occupation or education level was used to determine the social class category for the family. In cases where parents were separated or divorced, information gathered from the parent interviewed was used.
Aizcorbe, A. M., Kennickell, A. B., & Moore, K. B. (2003). Recent changes in U.S. family finances: Evidence from the 1998 and 2001 Survey of Consumer Finance. Federal Reserve Bulletin, 89(1), 1–32. Retrieved from https://www.federalreserve.gov/pubs/bulletin/2003/0103lead.pdf.
Anthes, W. L., & Most, B. W. (2000). Frozen in the headlights: The dynamics of women and money. Journal of Financial Planning, 13(9), 130–142. Retrieved from https://www.onefpa.org/journal/Pages/default.aspx.
Aries, P. (1962). Centuries of childhood. New York: Vintage Books.
Arnett, J. J. (1998). Learning to stand alone. Human Development, 41, 295–315. https://doi.org/10.1159/000022591.
Arnett, J. J. (2004). Emerging adulthood. New York, NY: Oxford University Press.
Bell, N. F., & Blanchflower, D. G. (2011). Young people and the Great Recession. Oxford Review of Economic Policy, 27(2), 241–267. https://doi.org/10.1093/oxrep/grr011.
Berger, P., & Luckmann, T. (1966). The social construction of reality. New York: Anchor Books.
Berti, A. E., & Monaci, M. G. (1998). Third graders’ acquisition of knowledge of banking: Restructuring or accretion? British Journal of Educational Psychology, 68, 357–371. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.2044-8279.1998.tb01297.x.
Beverly, S., & Clancy, M. (2001). Financial education in a children and savings account policy demonstration: Issues and options. St. Louis: Center for Social Development, Washington University. Retrieved from https://csd.wustl.edu/Publications/Documents/RBP01-05_82.FinancialEducationInAChildren.pdf#search=beverly%20clancy%20financial%20education.
Bourdieu, P. (1984). Distinction. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
Bourdieu, P. (1986). The forms of capital. In J. Richardson (Ed.), Handbook of theory and research for the sociology of education (pp. 241–258). Westport, CT: Greenwood Press.
Bowen, C. F. (2002). Financial knowledge of teens and their parents. Journal of Financial Counseling and Planning Education, 13(2), 93–101. Retrieved from https://www.afcpe.org/news-and-publications/journal-of-financial-counseling-and-planning.
Burton, L. (2007). Childhood adultfication in economically disadvantaged families: A conceptual model. Family Relations, 56, 329–345. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1741-3729.2007.00463.x.
Business Cycle Dating Committee. (2010). Cambridge, MA: National Bureau of Economic Research. Retrieved from http://www.nber.org/cycles/sept2010.pdf.
Calarco, J. (2014). Coached for the classroom. American Sociological Review, 79(5), 1015–1037. https://doi.org/10.1177/0003122414546931.
Chin, T., & Phillips, M. (2004). Social reproduction and child-rearing practices: Social class, children’s agency, and the summer activity gap. Sociology of Education, 77(3), 185–210. Retrieved from http://www.jstor.org/stable/3649396.
Chowa, G. N., & Despard, M. R. (2014). The influence of parental financial socialization on youth’s financial behavior: Evidence from Ghana. Journal of Family and Economic Issues, 35(3), 376–389. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10834-013-9377-9.
Clarke, M. D., Heaton, M. B., Israelsen, C. L., & Eggett, D. L. (2005). The acquisition of family financial roles and responsibilities. Family and Consumer Sciences Research Journal, 33, 321–340. https://doi.org/10.1177/1077727X04274117.
Danes, S. M. (1994). Parental perceptions of children’s financial socialization. Financial Counseling and Planning, 5, 127–149. Retrieved from https://www.afcpe.org/news-and-publications/journal-of-financial-counseling-and-planning.
Danes, S. M., & Haberman, H. R. (2007). Teen financial knowledge, self-efficacy, and behavior: A gendered view. Financial Counseling and Planning, 18(2), 48–60. Retrieved from https://www.afcpe.org/news-and-publications/journal-of-financial-counseling-and- planning.
DeLuca, S., Clampet-Lundquist, S., & Edin, K. (2016). Coming of age in the other America. New York, NY: Russell Sage Foundation.
Doob, C. B. (2013). Social Inequality and Social Stratification in US Society. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Education.
Draut, T., & Silva, J. (2004). Generation broke: Growth of debt among young Americans. New York: Demos. Retrieved from http://www.demos.org/publication/generation-broke-growth-debt-among-young-americans.
Dwyer, R. E., McCloud, L., & Hodson, R. (2011). Youth debt, mastery, and self-esteem. Social Science Research, 40, 727–741. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ssresearch.2011.02.001.
Fry, R. (2012). A record one-in-five households now owe student loan debt: Burden greatest on young, poor. Retrieved from Pew Research Center website http://www.pewsocialtrends.org/2012/09/26/a-record-one-in-five-households-now-owe-student-loan-debt/.
Furstenberg, F. F., Rumbaut, R. G., & Settersten, R. A. (2005). On the frontier of adulthood: Emerging themes and new directions. In R. A. Settersten Jr., F. F. Furstenberg & R. G. Rumbaut (Eds.), On the frontier of adulthood: Theory, research, and public policy (pp. 3–28). Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press.
Gauthier, A. H. (2015). Documentation for the Families in the Middle (FIM) project. Retrieved from https://www.nidi.nl/shared/content/output/2015/fim-2015-documentation.pdf.
Graves, S. M. (2003). Landscapes of predation, landscapes of neglect: A location analysis of payday lenders and banks. The Professional Geographer, 55(3), 303–317. https://doi.org/10.1111/0033-0124.5503017.
Grinstein-Weiss, M., Spader, J., Yeo, Y. H., Taylor, A., & Freeze, E. B. (2011). Parental transfer of financial knowledge and later credit outcomes among low- and moderate-income homeowners. Children and Youth Services Review, 33(1), 78–85. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.childyouth.2010.08.015.
Grody, A. D., Grody, D., Kromann, E., & Sutliff, J. (2008). A financial literacy and financial services program for elementary school grades: Results of a pilot study. https://doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.1132388.
Gudmunson, C. G., & Danes, S. M. (2011). Family financial socialization: Theory and critical review. Journal of Family and Economic Issues, 32, 644–667. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10834-011-9275-y.
Hamilton, K., & Catterall, M. (2006). Consuming love in poor families. Journal of Marketing Management, 22(9–10), 1031–1052. https://doi.org/10.1362/026725706778935655.
Harding, D. J. (2010). Living the drama. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press.
Hilgert, M. A., Hogarth, J. M., & Beverly, S. G. (2003). Household financial management: The connection between knowledge and behavior. Federal Reserve Bulletin, 89, 309–322. Retrieved from https://www.federalreserve.gov/pubs/bulletin/2003/0703lead.pdf.
Huston, S. J. (2012). Financial literacy and the cost of borrowing. International Journal of Consumer Studies, 36, 566–572. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1470-6431.2012.01122.x.
Johnson, E., & Sherraden, M. S. (2007). From financial literacy to financial capability among youth. Journal of Sociology and Social Welfare, 34(3), 119–146. Retrieved from http://scholarworks.wmich.edu/jssw/vol34/iss3/7.
Jorgensen, B. L., & Savla, J. (2010). Financial literacy of young adults: The importance of parental socialization. Family Relations, 59(4), 465–478. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1741-3729.2010.00616.x.
Kim, J., LaTaillade, J., & Kim, H. (2011). Family processes and adolescents’ financial behaviors. Journal of Family and Economic Issues, 32(4), 668–679. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10834-011-9270-3.
Kourilsky, M. (1977). The kinder-economy: A case study of kindergarten pupils’ acquisition of economic concepts. The Elementary School Journal, 77(3), 182–191. https://doi.org/10.1086/461045.
Lareau, A. (2011). Unequal childhoods. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press.
Lareau, A., & Conley, D. (2008). Social class: How does it work? New York, NY: Russell Sage Foundation.
Lareau, A., & Weininger, E. B. (2003). Cultural capital in educational research: A critical assessment. Theory and Society, 32(5), 567–606. Retrieved from http://www.jstor.org/stable/3649652
LaRossa, R. (2005). Grounded theory methods and qualitative family research. Journal of Marriage and Family, 67(4), 837–857. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1741-3737.2005.00179.x.
LeBaron, A. B., Hill, E. J., Rosa, C. M., Spencer, T. J., Marks, L. D., & Powell, J. T. (2018). I wish: Multigenerational regrets and reflections on teaching children about money. Journal of Family and Economic Issues, Online First. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10834-017-9556-1.
Leicht, K., & Fitzgerald, S. (2006). Postindustrial peasants. New York: Worth Publishers.
Lieber, R. (2015). Why you should tell your children how much money you make. The New York Times. Retrieved from http://nytimes.com.
Lusardi, A., & Mitchell, O. (2007). Financial literacy and retirement preparedness: Evidence and implications for financial education. Business Economics, 42, 35–44. https://doi.org/10.2145/20070104.
Lusardi, A., Mitchell, O., & Curto, V. (2010). Financial literacy among the young. The Journal of Consumer Affairs, 44(2), 358–380. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1745-6606.2010.01173.x
Lyons, A. C. (2004). A profile of financially at-risk college students. Journal of Consumer Affairs, 38, 56–80. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1745-6606.2004.tb00465.x.
Mandell, L. (2008). The financial literacy of young American adults. Washington, DC: Jump$tart Coalition for Personal Financial Literacy. Retrieved from http://views.smgww.org/assets/pdf/2008%20JumpStart%20Financial%20Literacy%20Survey.pdf.
Manzoni, A. (2016). Intergenerational financial transfers and young adults’ transitions in and out of the parental home. Social Currents, 3(4), 349–366. https://doi.org/10.1177/2329496515616822.
McCormick, M. (2009). The effectiveness of youth financial education. Association for Financial Counseling and Planning Education, 20(1), 70–83. Retrieved from http://files.eric.ed.gov/fulltext/EJ859566.pdf.
Miller, J., & Yung, S. (1990). The role of allowances in adolescent socialization. Youth & Society, 22(2), 137–159. https://doi.org/10.1177/0044118X90022002002.
Moschis, G. P. (1985). The role of family communication in consumer socialization of children and adolescents. Journal of Consumer Research, 11, 898–913. Retrieved from http://www.ejcr.org/.
Moyer, L. (2014). Teaching your kids to be rich. The Wall Street Journal. Retrieved from https://www.wsj.com.
National Center for Education Statistics. (2017). Education indicators: An international perspective. Retrieved from https://nces.ed.gov/Pubs/eiip/eiip1s01.asp.
Pugh, A. J. (2004). Windfall child rearing. Journal of Consumer Culture, 4(2), 1469–5405. https://doi.org/10.1177/1469540504043683.
Pugh, A. J. (2009). Longing and belonging. Berkeley: University of California Press.
Remund, D. L. (2010). Financial literacy explicated: The case for a clearer definition in an increasingly complex economy. Journal of Consumer Affairs, 44(2), 276–295. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1745-6606.2010.01169.x.
Schor, J. B. (2004). Born to buy. New York: Scriber.
Schuchardt, J., Hanna, S. D., Hira, T. K., Lyons, A. C., Palmer, L., & Xiao, J. J. (2009). Financial literacy and education research priorities. Journal of Financial Counseling and Planning, 20(1), 84–95. https://www.afcpe.org/news-and-publications/journal-of-financial-counseling-and-planning.
Sherraden, M. S., Johnson, L., Guo, B., & Elliott, W. (2011). Financial capability in children: Effects of participation in a school-based financial education and savings program. Journal of Family and Economic Issues, 32(3), 385–399. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10834-010-9220-5.
Shim, S., Barber, B., Card, N., Xiao, J. J., & Serido, J. (2010). Financial socialization of first-year college students. Journal of Youth Adolescence, 39(12), 1457–1470. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10964-009-9432-x.
Van Campenhout, G. (2015). Revaluing the role of parents as financial socialization agents in youth financial literacy programs. Journal of Consumer Affairs, 49(1), 186–222. https://doi.org/10.1111/joca.12064.
Wadsworth, M. E., & Compas, B. E. (2002). Coping with family conflict and economic strain: The adolescent perspective. Journal of Research on Adolescence, 12(2), 243–274. https://doi.org/10.1111/1532-7795.00033.
Whittington, L. A., & Peters, H. E. (1996). Economic incentives for financial and residential independence. Demography, 33(1), 82–97. https://doi.org/10.2307/2061715.
Wu, S., Despard, M. R., & Chowa, G. (2017). The role of parents in introducing children to financial services: Evidence from Ghana-YouthSave. Journal of Family and Economic Issues. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10834-017-9519-6.
Zelizer, V. A. (1985). Pricing the priceless child. New York: Basic Books.
I am wholly indebted to Frank Furstenberg, without whom this project would not exist. Laura Napolitano, Roberta R. Iversen, and Patricia Tevington were each essential to the data collection process and offered meaningful support along the way. I am grateful for the feedback provided by Sandra Smith, Irene Bloemraad, John Lie, Danny Schneider, Susan Holloway, Alex Brewer, the members of the UC Berkeley Gender and Sexuality Workshop, and the editor and two anonymous reviewers. Special thanks to the families interviewed for the project for inviting us into their homes and speaking so candidly. Any mistakes, of course, are my own.
This work was supported by the Russell Sage Foundation [Grant Number 83-09-01].
Conflict of interest
Sigrid Luhr declares that she has no conflict of interest.
All procedures performed in studies involving human participants were in accordance with the ethical standards of the institutional and/or national research committee and with the 1964 Helsinki declaration and its later amendments or comparable ethical standards.
Informed consent was obtained from all individual participants included in the study.
Appendix: Excerpts from Parent and Adolescent Interview Schedules
Appendix: Excerpts from Parent and Adolescent Interview Schedules
Parent Interview Schedule
At what age do you expect that (name of child) will be able to support him/herself on his own? Has this changed over the last several years? Have you talked with your children about these issues?
Generally, do you talk with your children about family finances? Why/why not?
Do your children know about your financial situation? Do you think it’s important for them to know this?
Do they know about your plans to pay for post-secondary education?
Do you ever talk to (name of child) about saving money?
When do these conversations typically happen? Can you remember the last time you had a conversation like this?
Does (name of child) have a bank account in his/her name? How about debit cards or credit cards?
When did they first get one? Why do you think this is important? Tell me about any ways you help them manage their money.
Do you give (name of child) an allowance? What about spending money? How do you negotiate this?
Do you talk to (name of child) about how to spend their money? Do you encourage them to spend it on particular things?
Do you and (name of child) ever fight about money? Tell me more about the last time that happened.
How do you teach your children about finances?
Adolescent Interview Schedule
Tell me about your responsibilities in the house.
Do you contribute anything financially to the house? Tell me more about that. How did you and your parents decide this?
Have your parents ever given you an allowance?
Do you remember what grade you were in when you first started getting one? Tell me the story about first getting your allowance.
Is this tied into your household responsibilities?
Do your parents ever give you spending money? Tell me how that works.
(If no) have you ever talked with them about it? Tell me about those conversations.
Do you have any sense of your family’s financial situation? How does this compare to your peers’ families?
How often do you and your parents talk about money? Would you like the amount you talk about it to be more/less? Do they give you any particular financial strategies?
Do your parents seem to worry much about money?
What signs do you see of this? Were there things you felt like you couldn’t afford while growing up? How did this make you feel?
Do you have a bank account?
(If yes) Tell me the story of getting the account. Do you remember going into the bank? How did this come about?
(If no) Have you thought about getting one? Tell me about why you have chosen not to.
Do you have a debit or credit card? When did you get one?
Do you remember any details about this? Did someone talk to you about how to use it?
Do you use any apps or other things to help you with money? Have you ever taken any financial classes in school or elsewhere? Tell me more about that.
At what age do you expect that you will be able to support yourself without help from your parents?
Have you and your parents talked about this?
(If planning on attending college) Will you live at home while in school? Do you expect to live on your own after graduating?
How do you define financial independence? How do your parents? Tell me more about why you think these are similar/different?
About this article
Cite this article
Luhr, S. How Social Class Shapes Adolescent Financial Socialization: Understanding Differences in the Transition to Adulthood. J Fam Econ Iss 39, 457–473 (2018). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10834-018-9573-8
- Financial socialization
- Social class