An inclusive society is one in which its members have equal opportunities for full and meaningful participation—in varying yet related domains and at different stages across the life course—that can catalyze their economic mobility. Examples include the opportunity to invest in human capital with anticipated returns and without accumulating crippling debt; the opportunity to participate in a labor market that adequately compensates and promotes; the opportunity to pursue entrepreneurial endeavors that employ, invent, and innovate; the opportunity to convert income into wealth.
Unfortunately, equality of opportunity evades millions of people in the US and around the world, who are excluded from full and meaningful participation in society. The effects of opportunity’s unequal distributions can be observed from life’s earliest moments when new generations are born into (dis)advantage, their opportunities or lack thereof multiplying across the life course. Solutions are needed to narrow opportunity gaps before they widen beyond repair.
In today’s sophisticated economic reality, catalyzing greater upward mobility will hinge to at least some extent on financial inclusion as the foundation of economic security and economic progress. Financial inclusion is often defined as access to a basic bank or savings account; however, a more holistic definition encompasses a wider array of financial products and experiences and considers opportunities to earn money and to accumulate savings within those financial products. Financial Inclusion investigates the potential of financial inclusion for offering a gateway to societal participation and economic mobility, informing national policy through some of the following research inquiries:
- Building knowledge about children’s cognitive, social, and linguistic developmental milestones can illuminate when children are capable of using a basic bank or savings account and can help pinpoint opportune moments in the life course for expanding financial inclusion.
- Evaluating the effectiveness of financial capability—the combination of financial inclusion with financial education—and its relationship to financial behavior can provide information about whether there are benefits to receiving “just-in-time” education in tandem with a financial decision and can help design useful interventions to empower financial consumers.
- Exploring densities of mainstream and alternative financial institutions within communities and their relationships to financial behaviors can inform the extent to which where one lives supports or supplants financial opportunity and can identify locales that may benefit from economic development.
- Testing the potential of a savings account for serving as a gateway financial product and encouraging diverse asset portfolios may offer a rationale for making savings accounts more widely accessible and affordable and for encouraging public and private investment in such endeavors.
Dr. Terri Friedline (firstname.lastname@example.org) is the Faculty Director of AEDI's Financial Inclusion Research Area.