Why are we infantilising women when it comes to talking about finance?

23 : 03 : 2018 Female Futures : Finance : Fintech
Investing for Humans by Wealthsimple Investing for Humans by Wealthsimple

We need to be inspiring the next generation to approach money with confidence whether that be as significant wealth holders or the average spender.

Rhiannon McGregor, foresight writer, LS:N Global

Never trust a woman with money. This is the not-so-subliminal message being fed to consumers by the mainstream media both in the UK and beyond.

New research commissioned by Starling Bank analysed the linguistics of more than 300 finance articles from publications around the world. Some 65% of those targeted at a female readership referred to them as ‘splurgers’ and encouraged them to start ‘saving pennies’. This kind of infantilising approach was reiterated in the imagery used, with pictures of piggy banks featuring heavily and one magazine even showing a woman recoiling beneath an intimidatingly large credit card. In comparison, when journalists write about men’s relationship with money they take a much more assertive approach. Phrases like ‘opportunities to seize in 2018’ and ‘calculated risk’ are commonplace and they address topics like building an investment portfolio.

This kind of flippant sexism serves only to reinforce harmful stereotypes. While studies show that women do indeed have on average more debts than their male counterparts, the reasons behind this cannot and should not be reduced to the sweeping statement that women are simply bad with money. A report from the online lending exchange, Lending Tree, indicates that on average women hold £48,395 ($68,834, €55,511) of liabilities, which is around 30% more than men's average of £37,273 ($53,017, €42,755). The findings also show that a significant contributing factor to the gender debt divide is student loans, with women on average burdened with almost twice as much student loan debt as men in the US. This can be explained by the fact that they choose to enrol on more higher education courses beyond just a bachelors degree, as well as taking time off when they have children, which inhibits their earning power and therefore their ability to pay back their loans.

Some 65% of those targeted at a female readership referred to them as ‘splurgers’ and encouraged them to start ‘saving pennies’.

In using words like ‘splurging’ the media is failing to take into account any of these issues. We already know that there is a gender confidence gap. An eight-year study by Wiebke Bleidorn, Ph.D., from the University of California, analysed data from over 985,000 men and women across 48 countries, asking them to rate the phrase ‘I see myself as someone who has high self-esteem’. The results showed that men universally have higher self-esteem than women and this can be applied to all aspects of life, including their finances. The media – and brands – need to be engaging female consumers in a conversation that educates them on how to grow their wealth rather than simply chastising them for accruing debt.

Women who do invest have in fact continuously outperformed men over the past decade, according to investment firm Fidelity. Initiatives like Girls Who Invest, a non-profit founded in 2015, are helping to reshape the financial services landscape by educating women on how ‘to become tomorrow’s investors’. Through education initiatives and industry outreach programmes its goal is to have 30% of the world’s investable capital managed by women by 2030.

Of course not all young females are going to be captivated by asset management, but we need to be inspiring the next generation to approach money with confidence whether that be as significant wealth holders or the average spender. Starling Bank is leading the way with its #MakeMoneyEqual campaign, which calls on ‘every business owner, every news editor, every podcast presenter, every headline writer and copy checker: [to] talk about money in the same way to everyone’. As the bank rightly points out, money itself is not gendered and the discussion around it should reflect this fact.

Look out for our upcoming market to find out more about how brands can help women grow their wealth.