Manisha’s MoneyZen Blog

Do Money Books For Women Hurt Women?

What do you think…

  • Do personal finance books written by women for women perpetuate the myth that women are bad with money?
  • Why is there a “money management for women” section but no “money management for men” section at Amazon and other booksellers?
  • What’s up with all the diet analogies in these books – could they be any more demeaning?

A recent Slate article entitled “The Shopaholic Myth” and follow up piece at GetRichSlowly called “Women and Money: Slaying Stereotypes and Facing Reality” raised these very important questions. As a 40-something woman who co-authored two personal finance books for women, those questions hit me smack in the gut. These well-written articles (by two journalists I very much admire) forced me to think long and hard about whether my focus on financial literacy for women… was actually hurting women.

My conclusion: With the exception of age-based asset allocation guidelines (where I feel women should invest their retirement funds slightly more aggressively than men to prepare for statistically longer life spans), I’d argue that the fundamentals of personal finance 101 are identical for women and men. The reluctance of some younger women (notably in their 20s and 30s) to read female-oriented finance books is in a sense a victory for the equality movement. So here are the reasons why I still support personal finance books by women for women (if you prefer video, click the video below, or here to watch me talking about this subject on ABC News Now’s Good Money).

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  1. Women are not worse than men with money. Poor personal finance skills are rampant across gender lines. Why? The financial landscape has increased geometrically in its complexity over the past 20 years while financial education has not kept up. We all can use help.
  2. But modern life still has a tendency to spit in women’s eyes as their career paths progress. The twin combinations of what economists call “occupational segregation” (the tendency of women to voluntarily choose to work in less remunerative fields) combined with the time commitments of child rearing and elder care (which lead to women spending an average of 11 more years than men out of the paid workforce) mean learning financial basics are all the more essential for women. It also means we need more dialogue on these areas of inequality.
  3. The default language of finance is still male. As Nicholas Kristoff pointed out… our financial system might be in a very different (and better) place had it been Lehman Sisters instead of Lehman Brothers. As someone who worked in the financial services world for 15 years, I’d argue the reason there is no “money management for men” section at Amazon is that “male” is still the default speak of the industry. Personally, I’m not interested in talking about my personal finances through the lens of football or golf metaphors nor do I want to socialize over cigars and scotch (well, I’d drink the scotch…). Thanks to pioneers ranging from Women & Co. and Directions for Women to DailyWorth and LearnVest – there are more organizations focusing on the way in which women enjoy learning and digesting the very same personal finance information as men. As for the prevalence of dieting analogies – personally I just think that’s smart. The equation for financial and physical health is identical (inflows vs. outflows). We all eat, we all spend money… so why not compare the two? As Occam’s Razor suggests, when faced with choice the simpler the path the better the outcome.

How do you feel about personal finance books written by women for women?

Comments

  1. What may be obvious but unspoken is that there definitely SHOULD be personal finance books written for women by women because no matter how wrong it may be logically, people tend to be more comfortable in the company of themselves. The same advice coming from a man may be excellent advice, but it resonates differently with some women if it comes from a woman. “Jane Doe did it, and she’s a woman!”

  2. It is a comfort thing for me. I am a new mom, and no man at my job can relate to the ‘extra’ work I do with my new son; same thing for finances. The message will set better when you feel you can relate with the author.

  3. For myself personally the books would only be of value if and when I develop the discipline to not want a new vehicle every year, spend thousands on clothing , travel,restaurants,entertainment, gadgets, ect.. In short , depriving myself of a little now for more later. This has been my struggle. And at twenty-five the problem will only become greater if I have children. As an Architect and Engineer I make a very good income but I only have enough money to live a year without income and than I would have to seek help from my family. Saving money is like exercising, I hate doing both. Zoe

  4. As some who has had a life long love/hate relationship with exercise – I can totally hear you. Interestingly, I’ve found applying some of the principals that have helped me manage the financial tradeoff of enjoying today versus saving tomorrow to improve my fitness levels. Perhaps theres another area of your life (hobbies, relationships, career, path, etc) where you’d seen first hand the benefits of the short term hold back for long term gain that can give you the extra psychological boost. For instance, with me – I’ve made a game out of trying to drink my 64 ounces of water a day. I carry around an 8 oz water bottle and put a little sticky on it. Every time I drink it down, I get a hash mark. My goal – to end the day with 8 hash marks. That slight shift in focus has increased my water drinking success rate dramatically. Am thinking, Zoe, if you can find a way to make a game / personal challenge out of the shorter term financial tradeoffs you can break yourself from the paycheck-to-paycheck cycle. But most importantly I want to congratulate you for recognizing this tendency in yourself at age 25 – this is the PERFECT stage of your life to develop healthier spending patters. So keep it up!

  5. As some who has had a life long love/hate relationship with exercise – I can totally hear you. Interestingly, I’ve found applying some of the principals that have helped me manage the financial tradeoff of enjoying today versus saving tomorrow to improve my fitness levels. Perhaps theres another area of your life (hobbies, relationships, career, path, etc) where you’d seen first hand the benefits of the short term hold back for long term gain that can give you the extra psychological boost. For instance, with me – I’ve made a game out of trying to drink my 64 ounces of water a day. I carry around an 8 oz water bottle and put a little sticky on it. Every time I drink it down, I get a hash mark. My goal – to end the day with 8 hash marks. That slight shift in focus has increased my water drinking success rate dramatically. Am thinking, Zoe, if you can find a way to make a game / personal challenge out of the shorter term financial tradeoffs you can break yourself from the paycheck-to-paycheck cycle. But most importantly I want to congratulate you for recognizing this tendency in yourself at age 25 – this is the PERFECT stage of your life to develop healthier spending patters. So keep it up!

  6. Ashley – congratulations on the arrival of your son… and your note warms my heart. My hunch was that even thought the basic financial advice that I give to women is 99.9999% as the advice I’d give to men, there are certain biological and societal factors that make our life experiences as women different and as such we may learn that same financial information more effectively through the lens of other women. This approach is not for all women – many will enjoy gender neutral books and that’s great. My feeling is whatever works is what you should do. I think about my female-focused work as a supplemental option – not the end all and be all for everyone. Good luck with the inevitable juggling that comes with being a working mom – it’s not easy but you are setting a wonderful example for other women who want to combine work and motherhood. Thank for sharing your thoughts here!

  7. Ashley – congratulations on the arrival of your son… and your note warms my heart. My hunch was that even thought the basic financial advice that I give to women is 99.9999% as the advice I’d give to men, there are certain biological and societal factors that make our life experiences as women different and as such we may learn that same financial information more effectively through the lens of other women. This approach is not for all women – many will enjoy gender neutral books and that’s great. My feeling is whatever works is what you should do. I think about my female-focused work as a supplemental option – not the end all and be all for everyone. Good luck with the inevitable juggling that comes with being a working mom – it’s not easy but you are setting a wonderful example for other women who want to combine work and motherhood. Thank for sharing your thoughts here!

  8. Trina – Amen, sista. That’s exactly how I feel. I’ve tried to find quantitative data to back up my decision to focus exclusively on women in my work to no avail. But qualitatively, over and over again I hear women (not all, but enough) saying they find a level of comfort and support in learning the same financial lessons as men through the lens of a woman. Thank you for writing in to share your thoughts on this interesting and hotly debated topic at the moment!

  9. Manisha,

    I can understand why the Slate and other articles gave you pause. I’ll admit there are times I cringe and steer clear when I see personal financial books marketed to women that only play off of or amplify the stereotype of women who only understand or relate to things that connect with their pre-occupation with their looks or their weight. That said, I think you’re dead-on about the need for personal finance books written by women for women — for all the reaons you mention and then some, including:

    The financial industry is still fundamentally a male dominated, jargon-bound, and, I would argue, highly tradition bound industry. Perceptions and attitudes are slow to change even while the industry is increasingly aware they are missing half their market — a critical and growing market. They need to attract more women who can effectively relate to other women. But many women still find the financial services industry a challenging place to operate. I know. I was with one of these firms for a short tenure but found it was just as challenging to be an employee as it was to be a client. The issues that cropped up for me ranged from the communication style, to the value proposition, to the sense of priorities. It was a fairly frustrating, alienating experience as much as I firmly, firmly believe it doesn’t have to be this way. The personal financial services has to change. It will. But just very slowly.

    Separately, too, there’s a huge generational issue that has to be recognized. The most recent 20 and 30-somethings may take offense at books that condescend to address women as a separate audience with separate needs. They may feel this is completely unnecessary. If that’s the case, I agree with you that this is wonderful, fabulous news. Still, these 20 and 30-somethings may not appreciate that it wasn’t so long ago that women were raised to believe it wasn’t polite to talk about money, that this was in fact a male domain because it was a “well known fact” that men were better at the hard sciences and math compared to women whose strengths were limited to the arts and softer sciences.

    I was the product of an MIT engineer and Wellesley College art history major and this was how I was raised. It was only just *recently* in fact that studies came out revealing that girls were just as strong in the hard sciences and math as boys — a relief to read after all these years — especially because my own daughter adores math and I only discovered later in life that I was as well. (What a fun thing it is to enjoy the puzzle and challenge of it all with her!)

    I know many women around my age (I’m 51) who are highly intimidated when it comes to thinking about their own finances. These are smart, capable women — but they end up utterly cowed, acquiescing in front of the “experts.” I also know a ton of smart, capable women who really want to understand their finances but *still* come away frustrated when they go looking for answers from the “experts” — and can’t find someone who communicates in plain English. Even more telling — I know lots of *men* who feel and express these same frustrations when they try to make sense of their options and understand the industry.

    Part of the problem is that there are as many varied answers as people you talk to in this industry. Few will admit that managing money is as much a soft art as it is a science as it all begins and ends with what your personal goals are.

    Anyway, I love what you are doing. Take heart too. I’m guessing you already know this but the studies show that while men are typically more averse to asking questions and attending a seminar or workshop to learn more about their finances (pride, I wonder?) women are better at admitting what they sense they don’t know — and are far more inclined to attend workshops and seminars to learn. Which, if that is the case, raises an interesting question…

    Whose truly the more savvy audience? :)

    Keep up the wonderful work!

    With best wishes,
    Lisa

    (Wellesley ’81, HBS ’89!)

  10. Lisa – Thank you so much for your incredibly thoughtful (and well-thought out!) reply. Always great to hear from a fellow Wellesley Women & HBSer :). Think you’ve nailed the key issues I’ve been feeling as an early 40-something woman: (1) The financial services industry is truly trying to be more female friendly… but there’s still much work to be done, (b) the generational differences are gigantic… as I too meet so many brilliant women older than me who are skilled beyond words in their crafts yet still struggle with money for no other reason than lack of historical education it, and (c) that while money involves numbers – money management is NOT black and white. So thank you for sharing your deep wisdom and insights with fellow readers of this blog. Thanks also for the encouragement to me – some days it’s harder than others to put yourself out there. The internet has created a culture where people feel comfortable saying all sorts of things and not all of them as diplomatically put as your beautiful comment!

  11. Love this question:
    Why is there a “money management for women” section but no “money management for men” section at Amazon and other booksellers?

  12. Yep – so hear you, Susan. It’s a very thought-provoking question. So much so that it sent me into spasms of self-doubt as kept asking myself if I was putting women into a “pink ghetto” by directing my financial literacy advocacy work at them.

    But when I come across firsthand accounts like these: http://www.venturevalkyrie.com/2011/01/17/alas-no-line-for-the-ladies-room/1691 – from women on the front lines of venture capital, private equity, and other areas of finance and I am reminded afresh how the default stance of the industry is still soooo male.

    I look forward to the day when people will think I’m clearly off my rocker to talk about personal finance in any kind of gender nuanced context because there is ample evidence all around them that we live in a world radiating with equality. As a 40-something it may not happen in my lifetime, but I refuse to believe it’s not possible one day. Here’s to my female-oriented financial work becoming a quaint relic :)

  13. I think there are a number of situations women find themselves in more often than men, in which money management is a huge issue. Unmarried parenthood, widowhood, workforce re-entry after time off to parent–sure, these things may happen to men, but they happen more often to women. These situations and others create huge money-crunches.

  14. Amen Sista – that’s totally why I do this work. My goal is not to say any one gender is “better” but rather due to both current societal dynamics (some of which I am very comfortable as saying are NOT fair) and other that are biological or choices – women end up, in my experience, with a wide range of financial issues that I think could use some extra attention. Here’s to a world where money-crunches for women (and men!) are as few and far between as possible. And thanks for sharing your thoughts :)

  15. Even though some men do their share of parenting, the fact is that it’s still Mom who thinks of things like new snow boots, immunization schedules and the cupcakes for Friday’s class party. The things our kids need are mosquitoes buzzing in the ears of working women.
    Just as men are still expected to bring home the bacon (and be the one who DOESN’T quit his job to stay home with kids), women are expected to keep the home fires burning even if they leave those homes between 9 and 5 each weekday.
    As for analogies about dieting or shopping…Well, don’t books written by men for men include sports or “Picture your retirement plan as a high-performance vehicle” analogies? When I interviewed the author of one of the books Slate mentioned, she said that in order to get anyone (male or female) on board with a financial plan you must first make it comprehensible. Since most of us DON’T have advanced financial degrees….heck, yeah, relate it to something that I can understand! Liken it to the periodic table of the elements if that’s my particular bailiwick — and to the four basic food groups if I’m intensely interested in nutrition and weight loss.
    The result: WE GET IT. We don’t just dither and fail to make smarter decisions with our funds.

  16. Thanks for sharing your always excellent thoughts, Donna. I’m so with you. My feeling is that in order to learn & make change in our lives people need to connect with & understand the message being presented in a way that resonates with them. Not all women will like money books specifically for women but some will – and for those that do I think they can make a very positive difference!

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About Manisha’s Money Zen Blog

This blog chronicles my quest to identify simple, joyful methods that we can all use to feel calmer and more balanced in our relationship to our money.

Despite the abundance of personal finance books, magazines, radio programs and TV shows that have exploded into our lives over the past two decades, most of us struggle to find financial sanity, security and serenity. Rather than help us eliminate money pain, all this information has left us feeling overwhelmed and confused. We need fresh wisdom to break out of the cycle of despair and create lives of abundance.

Here’s hoping these short pieces will help you craft a uniquely rich and rewarding life.

To Your MoneyZen,
– Manisha