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Op-ed: Women, let’s talk about money

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“I’m not a math person.” “I’m not a numbers person.” “I’m bad with money.”

Sound familiar?

No, we’re not recording you at home. As a wealth advisor, I hear statements like this all the time from women, regardless of their age.

In fact, one of the most common — often unconsciously inherited — beliefs that women share with me is that on some level, “men are supposed to be in charge of making or managing the money in the relationship.”

This can create a dynamic for many women in which they don’t feel that they need to understand money, sparking confusion and an overwhelming feeling when they go to learn about it.

Is it really possible that there is such a stark difference in aptitude between men and women when it comes to numbers? Seems hard to believe — and research shows it’s not true.

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One influential study led by psychologist Janet Hyde involved reviewing data from more than 100 other studies on math performance in children and adults. Findings showed that there is no difference in innate math ability between girls and boys in elementary, middle or high school. Interestingly, another study found that in lower-income elementary school districts, girls tend to outperform boys in math.

So why do so many women grow up believing that they’re bad at math and, later, bad with money?

For starters, women throughout history, and still in many places today, have been deprived of property rights or the opportunity to control their finances. How can women develop skills and the confidence needed to manage their money effectively, if it isn’t even considered to be theirs?

Think about this familiar example: In England up until way too recently, women were considered property themselves, belonging to their husbands (we see you, Jane Austen).

Even after women fought for and won the right to vote in the U.S. in the early 20th century, women could not easily get loans or credit cards without a male co-signer until 1974 and the passage of the Equal Credit Opportunity Act. Today, we still have a gender pay gap, which can negatively affect women’s confidence with money.

Other factors influencing aptitude perception include gender stereotypes and teacher bias. Research has shown that teachers and employers tend to have lower expectations of girls and women in math and science, which can lead to lower performance and a lack of interest in these fields.

And then there is perfectionism: the immense pressure many women feel to perform at a high level across various aspects of life, including family, career and personal finance. This can affect women’s confidence in making financial decisions.

Ironically, women demonstrate every day that, as a whole, we are superb at resource management.

Women often manage the allocation of so many other resources aside from money that people consider valuable, including time, talent and relationships. Yet, at the same time, we’ve been taught that it is “not polite to talk about money.”

But it’s imperative that we do.

In the coming decades, trillions of dollars are expected to change hands in the U.S. as older generations pass on their assets to younger ones. This is called “The Great Wealth Transfer.” 

Women are expected to receive a significant portion as a result of several factors, including the increasing number of women who are earning high salaries, expanding roles in financial decision-making and the fact that women are generally outliving men.

According to some estimates, the transfer of wealth to women could reach as much as $30 trillion over the next few decades. It’s important to note that this wealth transfer is expected to take place in predominantly white families, which speaks to the important racial factors that intersect with gender factors to influence wealth distribution and education.

Shifting women’s beliefs about money will require filling in social and cultural gaps with education, access to resources, the instilment of a growth mindset and reinforcement that everyone is capable of learning.

Promising strides have been taken in recent years. Initiatives such as Girls Who Code and Women in STEM aim to promote greater diversity and inclusivity in math- and science-related fields.

When we create spaces for women to talk about money, understand our “money roots” and our inherited money stories, it facilitates breakthroughs that can improve our relationship to money for our lives and for generations to come. Having conscious conversations around money helps us clarify values, deepen knowledge and prepare to direct this money in the world in ways that will make a difference for us and the people we care about.

As a result of this work, we have already seen so many women create new possibilities, not just for how we relate in their partnerships or family units, but also in the way we frame the very idea of “wealth.”

— By Anne B. Johnston, a certified financial planner and founder and managing director of boutique wealth advisory Created.

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