Doctoral Student Receives Award from National Endowment for Financial Education | Brown School at Washington University in St. Louis
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Doctoral Student Receives Award from National Endowment for Financial Education

PhD; Alumni; Social Work; Students

​In May, the National Endowment for Financial Education honored CSD Research Associate Yingying Zeng with an award for "Workplace Financial Counseling: Credit Outcomes Among Lower-Paid, Entry-Level Workers," a paper she wrote with Mathieu Despard and Sophia Fox-Dichter.

Zeng has been working on financial well-being issues since she came to the United States in 2015. As part of a practicum for her master of social policy degree in the Brown School, she worked with Assets for Life, a program by the International Institute of St. Louis that provides Individual Development Accounts with savings matches to refugees. Founding Director of the Center for Social Development (CSD) Michael Sherraden pioneered the accounts in 1991.

"We are very proud of Yingying Zeng, who has won a national award while still a doctoral student." said Sherraden. "I want to thank the Social Policy Institute for giving her this research opportunity, and all of the support of academic colleagues." Sherraden also is the George Warren Brown Distinguished University Professor at Washington University.

Zeng explained her commitment to this work: "People must be financially capable and able to accumulate assets to achieve long-term financial security. I hope that everyone can have sufficient knowledge and accessible opportunity to make informed financial decisions and achieve financial goals."

The award-winning paper, which has been submitted for publication, reports findings from a study conducted by the Workforce Financial Stability Initiative in Washington University's Social Policy Institute. Zeng and colleagues found that engagement in services varied little by demographic characteristics, except that older and non-English speaking workers had less digital engagement. Credit outcomes were modest but positive. Employees who received three or more counseling sessions experienced better credit outcomes compared to employees who received just one or two sessions, while employees with the lowest baseline credit scores experienced the largest increases in credit scores.

Given annually for a rigorous original study that advances knowledge on financial education, behavior or capability, the national award is presented during the conference of the American Council of Consumer Interests. The council held a virtual conference in late May.

In addition to her affiliation with CSD, Zeng, the study's lead author, is a doctoral student in social work at Washington University's Brown School and a doctoral research assistant with the Social Policy Institute. Co-author Despard is a faculty associate with the Social Policy Institute, as well as an associate professor with the University of North Carolina at Greensboro. Fox-Dichter is a data analyst with the Social Policy Institute.