My childhood friend, Janet, thinks she’s stupid when it comes to money. “It’s all beyond me,” she says. “I’ll worry about retirement once the kids are grown. Right now, I’m just trying to stay on top of all the bills.”
In fact, Janet, has a graduate degree in psychology and works part time as an independent contractor while raising three kids, the youngest of whom is 5 years old. She doesn’t lack financial sophistication. It’s just that rules for retirement savings and investments seem obscure to her. “I can’t get a straight answer,” she explains. There is no book to turn to for a roadmap on how to invest for my future. I don’t trust the experts. They talk down to me. My husband seems to understand it all. I don’t.”
Janet echoes the sentiments of many women, especially those who are not on salary but work a few jobs to make ends meet. Financial rules are particularly inhospitable to this group. But rather than fault the system, financial media send a message that women need to take ownership of their self-created plight.
Here is a smattering of advice from a random sample of financial journalists:
Women need to gain confidence when dealing with money. We are financial underachievers. Too many women hesitate to take control of our finances. This lack of confidence is really self-imposed. We still tend to pass the buck on important money matters, such as investing and retirement. Ready to take charge of your financial future? Start right here.
Such critiques remind me of the “Mad Men” era where financial jargon is just too complicated for a woman to worry her pretty little head over.
The rules and policy initiatives surrounding personal finance have been written by men for men.
Our current system is punishing for those who take time out of the workforce. Benefits, like health insurance and the ability to save for retirement, are linked to employment. These benefits are the cornerstone to being able to lead a dignified, independent life. For example, women are far less likely than men to be insured through their own job (34% versus 43% respectively: source kff.org). A recent Vanguard study shows that men in aggregate have retirement account balances that are 50 percent larger than those of women. Furthermore, on average, women receive only about three-quarters of what men receive from Social Security or about $13,500 per year. Yet without Social Security, approximately 50 percent of women would live below the poverty line in their golden years. What these statistics show is that our current system measures men’s contribution to our economy to be significantly higher than a woman’s. They are consequently rewarded with relative financial security not only while they work but throughout their retirement years.
We need to challenge this metric. We need to question the linkage of retirement contribution policies and health insurance benefits to employment. Regardless of whether a person is employed, she needs access to healthcare and an ability to retire with dignity. To assume that those who are not formally employed or who are underemployed are not contributing to our economy is an insult to millions of Americans, the majority of whom are women.
We need to write new rules that level the playing field for planning for our financial futures.