By PATRICK CAIRNS
There aren’t too many people left in developed countries like the UK that would argue against the equality of the sexes. In theory, it is pretty universally agreed.
But things often look quite different in practice.
The most recent financial wellbeing index study by Aegon highlighted some noteworthy statistics in this regard.
For instance, women are far more likely to take responsibility for budgeting for groceries in a household than men. The survey found that 51% of women do this, and only 17% of men.
The numbers when it comes to who is responsible for children’s clothing are even more extreme. This falls to 73% of women, but only 8% of men.
However, when it comes to long-term savings, the numbers reverse. Here, 61% of men take responsibility, and only 36% of women.
It is perhaps not so surprising, then, that the survey also found that 42% of women said they are struggling with their financial wellbeing, compared to 31% of men. Only 12% of women were able to combine healthy finances and a positive money mindset. That compared to 21% of men.
“Our research finds that in most mixed gender households, women are more likely to have lead responsibility for short-term budgeting and management of the household finances,” said Steven Cameron, pensions director at Aegon. “These important tasks make up much of the outgoings for the average household, but this short-term focus may be depriving many women of the chance to think long-term about their finances.”
There are two issues at play here.
The first is that the short-term spending demands to keep a household running mean that many women don’t feel that they have the means to save. This leaves them vulnerable.
The second, linked point, is that having long-term financial goals and a financial plan is an important part of having a healthy relationship with money. Without that security, it’s difficult to feel that you have a handle on your finances at all.
That raises the question of how this should be addressed. There are really three important steps that women, and their households, can take:
Too often, the division of money in a relationship is linked to “traditional” gender roles, with women taking on domestic and child-rearing responsibilities, and men being the “providers”. This happens even when women earn as much or sometimes more than their male partners.
Having a joint budget and a joint financial plan is the best way to address this. If all responsibilities are shared, and partners share responsibility for both short-term and long-term needs, women will feel more secure.
Appreciate the differences
Even when couples get this right, it is nevertheless important to appreciate that women are likely to be at a financial disadvantage. Even today, women still earn less than men on average. And their earning potential may be curtailed by taking time off to have children or to look after ailing family members.
Building this understanding into a financial plan is important. But it’s also necessary to realise that since women are likely to earn less over their lifetimes, they should be saving a higher portion of what they get.
This comes into conflict with the pressure to spend more on short-term family needs. However, it is vital for their wellbeing and security to have savings goals and stick to them.
Talk it out
It is also often the case that women find it harder to talk about money and finances than men. This is not always a bad thing. Men are inclined to spread their opinions even when those opinions aren’t well-informed. Women are more likely to only speak where they feel confident.
But feeling ashamed or unprepared to talk about money leaves many women feeling somewhat helpless. They think that they will never be able to get a hold on their finances and so never take the steps necessary to develop a healthier relationship with their money.
For women, finding a financial adviser that they can relate to, that listens to their needs, and understands that the conversations they want to have are not always the same as the ones that men do, can be a critical help. And having that support can make a huge different to their financial wellbeing.
One of South Africa’s most respected financial journalists, PATRICK CAIRNS is a trusted commentator on the world of investments and the quirks of behavioural finance. Over more than a decade he has built a reputation for keeping the industry honest, and putting the interests of investors first.
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