Recently, my company released a special report on the gender gap in financial literacy. Boy, talk about a lightening rod. I’m always fascinated by the amount of interest this particular topic drums up, but I’m starting to see the real value in the research.
We recently received an inquiry from a woman who just happens to work for a financial services firm, and she offered some strong criticism of our research. Now, I pride myself on my objectivity, so I felt obliged to ponder the spirit of her criticism. Here are the three things I took away from that self assessment that gave me a deeper appreciation for why this issue is so important.
#1 – A financial gap does not equal a value gap
One of the primary discoveries made through our research is that there continues to be a gap between men’s and women’s knowledge and confidence around investing and money management, but saying there is a knowledge gap, confidence gap, or any other kind of gap does not infer the superiority of men or the inferiority of women. This is absurd, and anyone walking away with that impression is projecting some internal bias toward believing one or the other.
Not only is this line of thinking wrong, it’s downright dangerous—not in a physical sense, but in a financial sense. My boss recently wrote a blog outlining the financial dangers men face when they are overconfident about their investment savvy.
#2 – Knowledge without action is worthless
A plurality of men and women alike say they are confident in their investment strategies, and yet only a small minority say they are on track to replace enough income to enjoy a comfortable retirement. This is another disturbing trend uncovered by our research, and it goes to prove that knowledge alone is not enough. If that knowledge does not translate into behavioral change, then the knowledge has no value.
#3 – The implications of this gender gap in financial literacy are real
So all this data is fine and dandy, but what scares me the most is that at the end of the day, this gap is real. Don’t believe me? Ask my mom, who had no clue how to manage her investments after my stepdad died. Ask my wife, who tells me everyday how lost she would be if anything ever happened to me. Ask my neighbor (Mrs. P), who has been financially paralyzed after losing her husband several months ago. The truth is the traditional household relies too heavily on men managing the finances. I’m not saying every household, but I’ll bet you a dollar to a donut it’s the majority. There IS a gap, and denying it only exacerbates the problem.
I would love for my mom to be more self reliant when it comes to investment decisions. I’d love for my wife to be more confident in her ability to manage the household finances. I’d love for Mrs. P to understand how her husband’s IRA works. But in order for these things to happen, we have to accept that there is a gap, and start working to close it. If I’m wrong and there is no gap, then nobody loses, but if I’m right, we ALL lose, one way or another.