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Men and women are now equally comfortable talking about age and partners—but a new survey shows money remains a gendered taboo

Men and women are now equally comfortable talking about age and partners—but a new survey shows money remains a gendered taboo

Krista Phillips is the EVP, head of consumer credit cards and consumer lending marketing at Wells Fargo.

We’ve all heard the term “girl talk,” right? It’s come to describe women chatting about stereotypical “girly” topics. But one thing most women are leaving out of their conversations? Money.

Of course, it can be hard to talk about money. For our whole lives, we’ve been told that it is rude to discuss it and now, even later in life, we are stuck with this stigma and shame surrounding our finances.

Let’s not forget that just a few generations ago women were unable to maintain independent finances. Just 50 years ago, U.S. women didn’t have the right to control their own banking decisions. We didn’t have economic rights and earning power of our own until 1974 with the Equal Credit Opportunity Act, which made it illegal to deny credit to people based on gender, race, religion, or national origin. And we’ve still got a long way to go for financial equality.

More recently, major cultural moments such as the Barbie movie, Beyonce’s Renaissance Tour, and Taylor Swift’s Eras Tour, highlighted the significant economic power women wield. So why do we still feel uncomfortable discussing financial topics?  

Spotlight on confidence

Our team at Wells Fargo teamed up with The Female Quotient to look into how women and men approach financial topics and to see what insights we could uncover to help level the playing field.

In the research, entitled Our Secret Numbers: Women, Men, and the Taboo Nature of Financial Health, people were asked about their “taboo” numbers—age, salary, weight, credit score, financial savings, debt, romantic partners, prescription medications, and spending.

When looking specifically at men vs. women, the data showed similarities in talking about age and romantic partners but showed disappointing—and sadly not shocking—differences when it comes to finances. This divide has very real, long-lasting effects on both genders’ mental wellness and financial potential.

The data exposed that men and women have different comfort levels talking about money and finances over the course of their careers. In fact, entry-level employed men are more comfortable talking about their financial health (66%), even when compared to senior-level-employed women (57%).

Men at every level reported being more comfortable discussing their financial health (66% entry-level, 67% mid-level, and 70% senior-level) than women (54% entry-level, 55% mid-level, and 57% senior-level). The same disparities between men (57% entry-level, 61% mid-level, and 67% senior-level) and women (50% entry-level, 52% mid-level, and 46% senior-level) applied to discussing debt.

The study also found that men are overwhelmingly happier and more confident in their financial abilities, despite financial health being equally important to both genders. Nearly half of all women say they do not feel confident managing their finances (49%), while only 35% of men agree. And while 58% of women are unhappy with their financial situation, only 42% of men are unhappy with theirs.

What’s more, treating money as a taboo topic is cyclical. You feel awkward mentioning your salary or your debt so you don’t talk about it, which means you don’t hear what other people are saying or recommending, and that leads to missed opportunities that could make you more money and build your confidence. So, while other people are growing their money, paying off debt, or talking to financial advisors and planners, they are also likely building up their financial confidence. And since men are statistically more comfortable talking about money, this cycle disproportionately affects women—restricting their financial growth, investment opportunities, and earning potential.

A likely reason to why women are more likely to feel this way can be traced back to our childhoods. From a young age, both boys and girls are keenly receptive to societal conditioning. Our society tells women and girls to be cautious with their money while telling men and boys to be smart, inherently creating very different connotations about finances and our respective roles in managing them.

Our research also revealed that in married or partnered households, men were more likely to take ownership of their responsibility to make the financial decisions while women were more likely to say they share the responsibility with their partners.

We need to change the conversation about finances. We can start by talking to our children about finances openly and positively being mindful about how we talk to young girls. When we don’t, this conditioning can have serious effects on the way girls grow up to view money, so we all need to pay close attention to our words and make sure we aren’t empowering boys and scaring girls.

We also need to remember that if you never raise your hand, your questions never get answered. Women are conditioned to believe that talking about money is rude. But the best way to learn about anything is to talk about it—and we aren’t talking about money enough.

Let’s take back our power and make sure that future generations know that “girl talk” is defined by the things that matter to us most like our day-to-day lives: feelings, careers, hopes, dreams—and money.

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