Financial social work

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Financial social work is an interactive and introspective, multidisciplinary approach that helps individuals explore and address their unconscious feelings, thoughts and attitudes about money.[1] This self-examination process enables people to improve their relationship with their money and thus establish healthier money habits that lead to improved financial circumstances.[2][3][4]


Reeta Wolfsohn, CMSW, created financial social work. She is the founder and president of the Center for Financial Social Work.[2][5] Financial social work originally evolved from Wolfsohn's work with women and the term femonomics, a term she coined in 1997.[6][2] Femonomics expanded into financial social work in 2005, an approach that leads both men and women in the direction of financial wellbeing.[2]

Wolfsohn brought the behavioral financial social work model to the University of Maryland as a continuing education training in 2008 and then as a graduate level course in January 2009.[5] The University of Maryland School of Social Work developed a financial social work initiative (FSWI) to prepare social work graduates to help clients improve their financial capability through continuing education courses, a graduate level elective course, out-of-classroom offerings, and paid field placements that address financial issues at the individual and community level.[7][8]

The Center for Financial Social Work's certification curriculum has been taught as an online elective class at the University of Kentucky since 2011.[5]

Disconnect from money[edit]

Consumerism features an increasingly cashless society with payment options including checks, credit cards, debit cards, money orders, small dollar loans and store-value cards, as well as various direct deposit methods for income and benefits.[9] When individuals have less direct and physical contact with their money, they disconnect from it. This prevents them from knowing or understanding how much money they have, or how their spending impacts their financial circumstances.[9][10][2]

Determinants of financial behavior[edit]

Individuals' financial behavior is influenced by many internal and external factors. Internal elements include individual psychology, family history and environment[11][12][13] Parents' values and beliefs on the importance of saving vs. spending and overall materialism impact their children's money values and beliefs; they transmit these money lessons primarily through modeling and discussion.[14] External factors include media, markets, peers, culture, and social mood.[15][13] In addition, self-worth, net worth and social signaling play a role on individuals' purchasing habits.

People with limited funds, or those trying to keep up with another's lifestyle often suffer from low self-esteem. This results in feeling unworthy of a better financial future and behaving in self-sabotaging ways such as overspending on high-status items.[16]

Improved financial circumstances require increased self-awareness because every financial decision is impacted by an individual's thoughts, feelings and attitudes about money which are often more unconscious than conscious.[4] The Financial Social Work model incorporates the transformative learning approach to expand self-awareness, sense of self and provide financial knowledge. As individuals gain more insight into why and how their thoughts and attitudes about money developed, they are more likely to make deep, long-lasting financial choices that positively impact their future.[17][4]

They then pursue their individual path to financial wellbeing according to where they are in the life cycle and their readiness/willingness to change, as per the Transtheoretical Model of Behavior Change (TTM). In addition, ongoing education, motivation and support are provided as part of the Financial Social Work package, thereby maximizing the likelihood of the optimal results.[18][3][13]

Professional development[edit]

Historically, the majority of undergraduate and graduate social work programs have not included financial literacy or courses in personal finances.[1][19] That is changing due to nearly two-thirds (65%) of 130 university program survey participants being very interested in developing or expanding student competency in financial capability,[20] and with the University of Maryland's Financial Social Work Initiative,[7][8] the Center for Financial Social Work's self-study certification process (recognized by the National Association of Social Workers (NASW)),[21] and the 2016 launch of the Council on Social Work Education (CSWE) of the Clearinghouse for Economic Well-Being in Social Work Education to support these efforts.[22]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b Despard, M., & Chowa, G. A. N. (2010). Social workers' interest in building individuals' financial capabilities. Journal of Financial Therapy, 1(1), 23–41.
  2. ^ a b c d e Wolfsohn, R., & Michaeli, D. (2014-02-03). Financial Social Work. Encyclopedia of Social Work. (This article was superseded by a completely different version by different authors on 2019-08-28, so the referenced statements may need to be updated to reflect the new version of the article at doi:10.1093/acrefore/9780199975839.013.923.)
  3. ^ a b Wolfsohn, R. (2012). Linking policy and practice. In E. F. Hoffler & E. J. Clark (Eds.), Social Work Matters: Power of Linking Policy and Practice. (pp. 219–223). Washington, DC: NASW Press.
  4. ^ a b c Vitt, L. (2009). Values centered financial education: Understanding cultural influences on learners' financial behaviors. Denver: National Endowment for Financial Education. Retrieved from
  5. ^ a b c Center for Financial Social Work (2015).
  6. ^ Fanning, P. (2009, February 2). UMB Leading in Financial Social Work Education. Retrieved from
  7. ^ a b Birkenmaier, J., et al. (2013). The role of social work in financial capability: Shaping curricular approaches. In Birkenmaier, Curley & Sherraden (Eds.), Financial capability and asset development: Research, education, policy and practice (pp. 278–301). NY: Oxford University Press.
  8. ^ a b Jacobson, J. M., Sander, R., Svoboda, D., & Elkinson, A. (2011). Defining the role and contributions of social workers in the advancement of economic stability and capability of individuals, families and communities. Center for Financial Security Research Brief, 2011-5.4, University of Wisconsin-Madison, Center for Financial Security
  9. ^ a b Raghubir, P., & Srivastava, J. (2008). Monopoly money: The effect of payment coupling and form on spending behavior. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Applied, 14(3), 213–225.
  10. ^ Soman, D. (2003). The effect of payment transparency on consumption: Quasi experiments from the field. Marketing Letters, 14, 173–183.
  11. ^ Nyhus, E. K., & Webley, P. (2001). The role of personality in household saving and borrowing behaviour. European Journal of Personality, 15, s85–s103.
  12. ^ Shim, S., Xiao, J. J., Barber, B. L., & Lyons, A. C. (2009). Pathways to life success: A conceptual model of financial well-being for young adults. Journal of Applied Developmental Psychology, 30, 708–723.
  13. ^ a b c Xiao, J. J., Collins, M., Ford, M., Keller, P., Kim, J., & Robles, B. (2010). The NEFE quarter century project: 25 Years of research in financial education: Theme 2: A Review of financial behavior research: Implications for financial education. Denver: National Endowment for Financial Education.
  14. ^ Webley, P., & Nyhus, E. K. (2006). Parent's influence on children's future orientation and saving. Journal of Economic Psychology, 27, 140–164.
  15. ^ Hira, T. K. (2010). The NEFE quarter century project: Implications for researchers, educators, and policy makers from a quarter century of financial education. Denver: National Endowment for Financial Education.
  16. ^ Sivanathan, N., & Pettit, N. C. (2010). Protecting the self through consumption: Status goods as affirmational commodities. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 46, 564–570.
  17. ^ Lusardi, A., Clark, R. L., Fox, J., Grable, J., & Taylor, E. (2010). The NEFE quarter century project: 25 years of research in financial education: Theme 1: Promising learning strategies, interventions, and delivery methods in financial literacy education. Denver: National Endowment for Financial Education.
  18. ^ Ozmete, E., & Hira, T. K. (2011). Conceptual analysis of behavioral theories: Application to financial behavior. European Journal of Social Sciences, 18(3), 386–404.
  19. ^ Sherraden, M., Laux, S., & Kaufman, C. (2007). Financial education for social workers. Journal of Community Practice, 15(3), 9–36.
  20. ^ Gates, L. B., Koza, J., & Akabas, S. H. (2017). Social work's response to poverty: From benefits dependence to economic self-sufficiency. Journal of Social Work Education, 53(1), 99–117.
  21. ^ Wolfsohn, R. (2016). Approved NASW Continuing Education Program. Retrieved from
  22. ^ Council on Social Work Education (CSWE). (2016). Clearinghouse for economic well-being in social work education. Retrieved from

Further reading[edit]