Women aren’t ‘bad’ with money — that’s a total fallacy
One of the first panel discussions I ever spoke on as the CEO of Verve Super was on ‘financially empowering women’, yet the moderator started with the question: “Why are women so much worse at managing money than men?”.
With over 500 women in the room eager to learn and build their financial skills, I listened to one panelist after another with growing agitation as no one questioned the premise of what had been asked.
The answer, of course, is: the question is wrong.
If the moderator had read the research, instead of the trope of messaging in Australia’s women’s magazines and mainstream media about women and money, she’d know that women aren’t bad with money, they are just as competent as men.
Despite all the hoo-ha about women lacking confidence with money, or the constant focus on our shopping and shoe purchases habits, what the actual research shows is that: women are on average buying their first properties earlier than men, are more likely to contribute additional top-ups to their super, and are even shown on average to take less risk and be better long term investors.
The problem isn’t just that women are constantly targeted with messages which subtly, or overtly, portray us as poor money managers, but also by focusing almost entirely on our role as shoppers and consumers, the media ignores us as an audience hungry for, and capable of understanding, practical and sophisticated financial information.
A recent study featured in the New York Times showed that while magazines targeted at men are more likely to talk about long term investing, building wealth and using money to obtain symbols of power, magazines targeted at women focus on shopping, budgeting, and our poor spending habits. To think about it another way, can you imagine GQ magazine, with its heavy male readership, ever offering: a ‘money personality quiz’, ’10 tips to not break the Christmas budget’, or offering ‘advice for when you’ve splurged on shoes’?
It’s a critical time to start questioning the messages about women and money
Over the past twelve months, we’ve finally started seeing important coverage in the media about the economic hardships facing older Australian women – they are now the cohort experiencing the fastest increasing rates of homelessness in the country. Yet we are far from seeing any form of discussion, debate or urgency from our Government to reform our retirement system to make it fairer for women.
Instead what we have seen, is an increasing number of articles telling women that they need to do better to solve this problem: how we need to save more, add more to our super, negotiate our salaries better, and plan more etc.
Don’t get me wrong, learning financial skills is important. At Verve we put a lot of effort into teaching them. Yet, when the media fails to mention the structural inequalities facing women and constantly provides women with ‘money tips’ while offering the Government no ‘budgeting tips’ to fair things up, then the result starts looking like victim-blaming. Coupled with the messages that women have received their whole lives about money, it’s no wonder that I hear so many women talk about their super and retirement savings with a sense of shame or guilt.
It is time to start changing the conversation.
We can’t close the retirement savings gap until we change the conversation
The good news is, women are increasingly demanding economic equality and we are all waking up to the inherent discrimination — whether it’s Australian work practices or the retirement system, which leads to the retirement savings gap (women are currently retiring with between 47% and 37% less super than men depending on which data you’re using). As an example, Verve recently launched the #MakeOurFutureFair Report and Campaign to draw attention to the structural inequalities in our retirement system, and the policy changes we need to make it fair. One of the most important findings from the study was that three out of five Australians agree that the retirement system is stacked against women.
To build the financial power of women, we need solid financial knowledge and skills, as well as an awareness of the policies that need to change to make our economic system fairer for women and all Australians.
One small way we can all contribute to this effort is by calling out those false messages about money when we hear them. Let’s remind the women we know who are struggling financially that they are most likely more skilled and more capable of making financial decisions than they’ve ever been given credit for. And let’s also remind the authors of those ‘money tip’ articles to include a tip on contacting a local MP to ask them what they are doing to support economic equality for women. Here’s an example.
Read more about how Verve is working to change messaging around women and money in Women’s Agenda and check out our top recommendations to #MakeOurFutureFair here.
This blog is published by Verve Superannuation Pty Ltd (ABN 65 628 675 169, AFS Representative No. 001268903), which is a Corporate Authorised Representative of True Oak Investments Ltd (ABN 81 002 558 956, AFSL 238184), as the Sub-Promoter of Verve Super.
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