Background: In the wake of the 2007–2008 global financial crisis, calls for financial literacy education increased dramatically. In both the United States and Canada, the financial collapse and its aftermath saw a resurgence of personal finance programs and initiatives in schools. While financial literacy education continues to be introduced in U.S. and Canadian high schools through the implementation of financial literacy standards into social studies curricula, few studies have focused on the content and ideology of these standards. This study is the first to provide a systematic review of all available high school financial literacy standards across the United States and Canada.
Purpose: The purpose of this research was to render visible the hidden ideological underpinnings of financial literacy standards. Specifically, the study investigated what the discourse in the standards implied about individuals’ financial outcomes and what was made invisible about the ways in which people achieve or fail to achieve economic security and wealth.
Research Design: This study employed critical discourse and ideological analysis to examine state-sanctioned financial literacy standards from 43 high school social studies curriculum documents in the United States and Canada.
Findings: The analysis revealed that, overall, financial literacy standards framed financial wellbeing as a personal doing while neglecting to consider the broader social, economic, and political forces influencing financial outcomes. This research demonstrates how financial literacy discourses, rooted in ideologies of merit, often tell an incomplete story about the origins and determinants of both wealth and poverty.
Conclusions: The results from this study offer insight into how deficit thinking about economically marginalized individuals and groups continues to permeate educational discourse. In examining financial literacy standards in particular, this study contributes to existing research problematizing financial literacy initiatives and calling for more critical, inclusive, and nuanced approaches. This research also adds to scholarship unpacking the ideological assumptions embedded in state-mandated academic standards concerning wealth and poverty.