Women and the Money Taboo

  • June 13, 2017
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It’s Time for Women to Speak Up About Money. Here’s Why (and How to Start)

Everyone knows there a few hot-button topics that we try to avoid in polite conversation: Religion. Mental health. Politics. Personal hygiene.

But when it comes to taboo topics, the clear winner is money.

44% of Americans identify personal finances as the most challenging discussion one can possibly have. Even the existentially terrifying topic of death, which you might expect to top the charts, comes in second at 38%.

In a society that is ostensibly one of the wealthiest in the world, why is everyone so reluctant to talk about such a basic subject?

Why Does Talking About Money Feel Taboo for Women?

My own experience has shown that you can go out for a drink with a new mom-friend, and within the first hour share intimate stories of your messy divorce, your terrible boss, your mom’s dementia, your son’s ADHD, and your favorite waxing place. But we don’t talk about money.

For many women, it is an absolute taboo. Maybe it is because growing up we heard things like “it’s not polite to talk about money”, or “people with money don’t talk about it” or “girls just aren’t good with math.”

But could it also be that money means so much more than a number in an account? Money is shorthand for happiness, power, control, success and even deficiency, so it can be a very scary topic.

“Enough” money can mean security, options, the ability to help our families, the capacity to give back; lack of money can mean the inability to have or do these things.

The Problem with Avoiding Money Conversations

The Money Taboo is particularly dangerous for women. The fact is that 90% of women will be solely responsible for their own finances at some point during their lifetimes. Since women don’t talk about money they don’t know where to go for advice and they don’t know how much they need. They feel less comfortable asking questions, less confident making financial decisions, less in control over their finances, and less prepared for the future. While 75% of women list “having enough money to maintain their lifestyle” as a main retirement goal, only 14% are confident they will actually meet that goal.

Women are often less confident in their own ability to make an investment. While men tend to view an investment as a transaction, women think about how it is going to affect their family which makes the decision seem much broader and more overwhelming. Women focus less about the relative performance of different funds or the absolute returns of a portfolio. They think in terms of how their investments will enable them to reach long term goals like putting their kids through college, maintaining their lifestyle in retirement or leaving a legacy. Money is filled with emotional connection, hidden meaning and subtext.

As women increasingly take on the role of primary breadwinner, the subject of money should no longer be taboo. Yet we’re still hesitant to discuss it with our bosses, our friends, our colleagues and even our spouses and partners. To put ourselves in a better position to negotiate and advocate for our worth, women need to own up to the fact that money is the main reason we work – not just creative or intellectual fulfillment.

It’s Time to Break the Financial Silence

Whatever the reasons for avoiding the subject–discomfort, embarrassment, awkwardness, shame, fear of being impolite– silence is not a good long term solution. Silence is detrimental to you and your financial knowledge. Silence also hurts others. It perpetuates wage inequality. It sends a message to our daughters, friends, sisters, mothers and colleagues that it’s ok to doubt your own worth.

We are committed to increasing the financial well-being of our clients. We believe that the purpose of money is to allow you to live the life you want, do the things you want to do without shame or embarrassment. You cannot be truly well—physically or mentally–when your financial well-being is uncertain. Well-being requires knowledge, empowerment, comfort and communication, and at the root of these lies conversation. It’s time to break down the Money Taboo…let’s talk about money!