The examples in pop culture are endless. You don’t have to look far to find a TV show, movie or book with a woman character who shops excessively, spends excessively, is buried in credit card debt or all of the above. It’s so pervasive that as a society, we’ve come to think those depictions are art imitating life, but that’s not the case.
Women are not genetically wired to be bad with money, just like men are not wired to be good with money. Getting rid of that (stigma) will play an important role not only in the way women experience their finances, but there’s also been research that found that a married couple’s negative perceptions of the way their partner handles money can lead to marital problems, regardless of whether the perception is reality or not.
The Story of the Stigma
Like so many things about women in society, the reason for the bad financial reputation boils down to misogyny. It’s easy to say women are bad with money because it goes along with the idea that women are solely emotional beings. Overly emotional people can’t manage the household finances or make a wise decision about a big purchase and generally need to be rescued by men. So, men should be the sole manager of that aspect—a powerful role in any home. Money is, and has always been, a source of power.
The examples go back through history. Consider Marie Antoinette. The story we know in popular culture about Marie Antoinette is that the people of France were so poor they couldn’t even afford bread, so from her castle in Versailles, surrounded by luxury, she said, “Let them eat cake.”
Historians have refuted that pretty widely for various reasons, a couple of them being that Marie Antoinette was known to be philanthropic and sensitive toward the needs of the poor and that she was required, as the queen, to maintain a certain appearance. And according to some historians, the French people knew and understood that.
As a more modern example: Until 1974, banks could force women to have men cosign loans with them, regardless of relationship status and the woman’s income. For centuries, the lesson there was that any man would be better than a woman at responsibly managing a loan account.
Even now, women are taught about money less and generally aren’t encouraged to talk about money. This can create a negative self-perception for women, in which they assume that their opinions about financial matters aren’t as valuable as men’s.
Don’t Forget the Pay Gap
It’s generally understated how much the gender pay gap affects the financial life of women—women of color to an even greater degree. When you consider that Equal Pay Day—the day when the average white woman has made the amount of money the average white man made the year before—falls on April 10 this year, it’s not hard to imagine how much money women don’t have compared to men.
Then think about how in addition to essentially having the same expenses that men have, women are also often forced to pay a pink tax—an increase in price on items that are marketed as specifically for women, which can range from paying 4 to 8 percent more on clothing to 13 percent more on personal care items. The conversation needs to evolve past how women are incapable of stewarding their own money to why women, across most industries, are earning less than men.
Studies have shown that on average, women have better credit scores and better strategies for their money—two things that are unrelated to a person’s income—they’re just less confident about those strategies. Men, on the other hand, are generally able to pay off their student loan debt faster, save more for an emergency fund and save more for retirement—things that are directly related to someone’s income.
Confidence doesn’t automatically create money, of course, but it does create perception, and can be an obstacle for women who have financial goals. It can be hard to take ownership of your money reality when you assume the worst about your own financial abilities.
Women should be empowered—and feel empowered—to make financial decisions, bridge the financial literacy gap and feel more confident about their financial standing because nothing about women makes them inherently “bad” with money. Women, if you are looking to take the first step to live with financial confidence, check out this assessment to get an idea of your own Financial Wellness. Get to know where you are now and receive recommendations on taking control of your finances.