“You educate a woman; you educate a generation.” – Brigham Young
It’s not that I’m against relationships but, in my opinion, I am finding there are definitely some advantages to being single. Having autonomy over every aspect of your life and having the ability to make choices based solely on what works best for you is a freedom I never truly appreciated until recently and I’m taking full advantage of it. As with any situation though, there are positive and negative aspects and I’d be lying if I said there was never a moment when the thought of having a partner to lean on and share those decisions with wasn’t appealing, especially with my family being 4000 miles away. As a single woman, I am very aware of the fact that I’m now in a demographic that statistically earns less, lives longer and has less money saved for retirement than my male or married counterparts. In last week’s post I wrote about some of the research related to women and their relationship with money and I wanted to continue to explore that topic over the next couple of weeks.
Women and Money
There seems to be quite a difference in the way women of different generations perceive and handle money. The older a woman is, the more likely it is that she will have concurred with the tradition of generations before her and allowed her partner to handle all aspects of long term financial planning. She may well have taken on the responsibility of managing the day to day household finances but it’s unlikely that she will have taken an active role in developing and executing the plan to build wealth for retirement. This leaves her in a very vulnerable situation when she finds herself widowed and alone. Younger women are much more likely to have investments of their own and to have taken a much more active role in managing their financial future but statistically they are less likely than men to contribute regularly to a retirement plan. This leaves them in a precarious position in retirement when they find themselves with fewer resources to cover their expenses.
Are women in control of family finances?
When I polled my facebook community recently regarding perceptions of women and money, several people shared stories of women not only taking an active role in managing the investment strategy but also helping their partner to eliminate debt and get back on track financially. On the one hand, this is encouraging but on the other it’s clear from looking at statistics and research that these women are the exception rather than the rule. If we seriously intend to change this for the next generation we need to do a much better job of teaching our children about money management. We especially need to focus on building financial literacy and financial confidence in girls so that they are equipped at an early age to take responsibility for their own wealth creation and not to rely on a partner to take care of it for them.
Thrifty housewife vs shopoholic
In an age where we demand and expect gender equality in career opportunities as well as household and family responsibilities, it’s obvious that we are failing our young people when it comes to equipping them to manage money effectively. As a society we seem to have moved the emphasis away from accumulating wealth to accumulating “stuff”. We judge the worth of others according to their material possessions and we view non-spenders in an increasingly negative light. The image of the thrifty housewife has been replaced with one of flighty shopaholic: the woman who is totally out of touch with her financial situation but is content to remain ignorant if it means she can have that pair of designer shoes at a ‘bargain’ price. This shift works wonderfully well for the retail stores and financial institutions who profit from our ‘desire to acquire’ but it works horribly for those who discover too late the impact that overspending has on a person’s ability to build a solid financial foundation. When the people making these discoveries are women the effect is made even more devastating by the fact that they traditionally earn less than men and spend less time in the workforce due to a combination of taking time off to raise a family and retiring earlier. This makes it much harder for them to make up any shortfall and is one of the main reasons why women are much likely to face severe financial hardships in their later years.
The good news is that women have for centuries drawn strength and inspiration from other women. It’s an instinct that can be incredibly powerful in driving change. Next week I’ll explore the idea of “building tribes” in order to harness the power of the crowd and channel it in order to increase financial literacy and create new habits in relation to money. In the meantime, your comments and insights are always appreciated!