March 8 is International Women’s Day, and women can take note of lots of progress. A century ago, women gained partial suffrage in Britain (full suffrage ten years later), and women have been voting for nearly 100 years in the United States. Women now account for more than half the students on American college campuses, and their presence is expected to increase. In the workforce, some 42% of women are the sole or primary breadwinners for their families.
PAY GAP FOR WOMEN STILL PERSISTS
But when it comes to money and personal finances, the news is less good. The pay gap persists, with women earning roughly 80 percent of what men do for comparable jobs. And that has effects beyond weekly paychecks: the median balance in women’s 401(k) accounts is less than two-thirds that of men’s, more women are working past age 55, and women are much more likely than men to face poverty in old age.
It’s International Women’s Day, though, so let’s not just wring our hands. Let’s think about how to move the dial for women and money.
WHAT NEEDS TO CHANGE
One thing that needs to change for women, in my view, is financial confidence. Women are exposed to any number of social cues suggesting they’re bad at math or “no good with money,” but it’s simply not true. In a large study of investment returns, women clearly outperformed men. And when it comes to healthy habits, women are more likely than men to voluntarily sign up for workplace retirement plans.
Women aren’t “bad with money.” They tend to think differently about it, that’s all. Women are less likely to focus on beating some target return and more likely to think about achieving life goals when they set financial objectives. They’re less interested in beating a stock market average, and more interested in being able to afford a home where their extended family can visit. Women are also more likely to consider carefully before trading stocks or bonds – a much more successful approach than trying to time the market.
What, exactly, is wrong with any of that? Right. Nothing.
So, women, I hope you give yourselves a pat on the back on International Women’s Day, and notice the progress of the past century. I hope you also start to acknowledge yourselves as having truly solid financial instincts and the ability to develop serious financial capabilities, since that confidence will empower you to strive for even more.
Despite what you may hear, the reality is that women have good investing instincts and solid savings habits, and they are astute long-term planners for their future.
Now that is something to celebrate.