Let’s Talk About Money: Gender Differences in Personal Finance

Money is probably not anyone’s favorite topic of conversation. Discussing your personal finances has been relegated to a discussion only to be had with a select few: perhaps your parents, a significant other, or a financial advisor. In the United States, it is typically considered “taboo” to ask others, even close friends, how much they make or how much they pay in rent. So why should we talk about money more?

Not talking about money can disproportionately affect women. How can a woman know that she is making less than a man in a similar role to her if no one ever talks about their salaries? Similarly, how can we close the gender pay gap if many women don’t even realize they are being paid less? Once a woman realizes she is paid disproportionately to her male coworkers, she can take steps to make a change, such as negotiating her salary.

Even from a young age, men and women are taught differently about money. [1] A study by Giftcards.com found that parents were more likely to teach their daughters about fiscal restraint, and their sons about building wealth. [2] These lessons, starting in their formative years, can cause men and women to have vastly different approaches to personal finance. How can we counter this? Talk to other women about the things we weren’t taught about growing up. Sharing things like how you’ve improved your credit score or your strategies for investing are great ways to normalize talking about money with your peers and learn from each other’s experiences.


These differences manifest themselves in lower levels of financial literacy among women. The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development found that women “display lower financial knowledge than men in a large number of developed and developing countries”. [3] Disproportionately affected are young women, widows, low-income women, and less-educated women. Looking at the WomanStats database and our variable ATFPA-PRACTICE-2, we can see that familial decision-making practices vary across countries. For example, in Australia, 84% of women have influence over family financial decisions. [4] In India, only one in six women is not involved in the decision over how her earnings are spent, and 57% of women make the decision jointly with their husband. [5] However, in Tanzania and Zambia, 21% of married women who earn an income have no say over how their money is spent. [6]

As I near the end of my time in college, personal finance is something that I think about more and more often. Here are some actions to take if you’re looking to make personal finance a priority:

1. Talk to your friends about it! Money doesn’t need to be the subject of every single conversation, but it’s something that should come up a lot more in conversation. Being comfortable talking to your friends about topics like budgeting, student loans, and retirement plans is an important step towards getting rid of the taboo around money.
2. Educate yourself. In this information age, there are so many resources available online – but the task of sifting through this volume of information can be overwhelming. Instead of trying to become an expert on personal finance all at once, start with one topic and slowly work toward learning more. Maybe you want to start with learning how to budget and finding a way to best track your spending, and then tackle more complicated issues like investing. A personal favorite of mine is The Financial Diet, a website that is catered towards women and provides great advice that is easy to implement in small increments into your life. [7]
3. Set goals for yourself. Maybe you want to save x amount of money by the end of the year. Maybe you just want to pay off your credit card bill on time each month. Setting clear, feasible goals for yourself will take you far in your personal finance journey.

We don’t have to go it alone when it comes to personal finances. Breaking the taboo around talking about money will help all women grow together. Money anxiety is more common than we think, but being transparent about your financial situation with both yourself and with those you are around you can make a huge difference.

– L.B.

[1] Lindzon, Jared. 2019. How parents talk about money differently to their sons and daughters. Fast Company. January 14, 2019. https://www.fastcompany.com/90283344/how-parents-talk-about-money-differently-to-their-sons-and-daughters.
[2] Giftcards.com. 2018. Adolescent Income and Financial Literacy. https://www.giftcards.com/adolescent-income-and-financial-literacy
[3] Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. 2013. “Gender differences in financial literacy”, in Women and Financial Education: Evidence, Policy Responses, and Guidance. https://dx.doi.org/10.1787/9789264202733-en.
[4] Poulter, Sean. 2015. Mothers make the most important financial decisions in most families. The Daily Mail. September 9, 2015. https://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-3228614/Mothers-make-important-financial-decisions-families-choose-holiday-research-finds.html
[5] International Institute for Population Sciences (IIPS) and Macro International. 2007. National Family Health Survey (NFHS-3), 2005–06: India: Volume I. Mumbai: IIPS. https://dhsprogram.com/pubs/pdf/FRIND3/FRIND3-Vol1AndVol2.pdf.
[6] The United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs. 2010. The World’s Women 2010 Trends and Statistics. United Nations. https://unstats.un.org/unsd/demographic/products/Worldswomen/WW_full%20report_color.pdf.
[7] The Financial Diet. https://thefinancialdiet.com/.

Additional References:
Wong, Kristin. 2018. We’re All Afraid to Talk About Money. Here’s How to Break the Taboo. The New York Times. August 28, 2018. https://www.nytimes.com/2018/08/28/smarter-living/how-to-talk-about-money.html.


One thought on “Let’s Talk About Money: Gender Differences in Personal Finance

  1. V says:

    That is a great article! It hadn’t occurred to me that we don’t really teach wealth-building skills to girls as much as we do to boys.

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