HE SAYS SHE SAYS How men and women differ about money Politically correct or not, the sexes have real differences in how they manage, spend and invest money. Here's how you can bridge the financial gender gap.
(MONEY Magazine) – It starts innocently. You're at a dinner party and toss off a flip remark about how men are more aggressive investors while women simply don't take risks. An awkward silence descends. All you can hear is ice melting. Before you know it, your head's on a platter for dessert. Up until now, the luckless soul who even suggested fundamental differences in the ways men and women handled or discussed anything, money included, was about as popular as Pat Buchanan at a National Organization for Women fund raiser. Increasingly, though, our politically correct, gender neutral, post- feminist national psyche is giving way to new thinking. "People are finally realizing that in our society men and women are conditioned almost from birth to view money in very different ways," says Ruth Hayden, author of How to Turn Your Money Life Around (Health Communications, $9.95). Hayden is one of a growing genre of so-called money counselors and psychologists who earn their living by hearing patients free-associate about checkbooks rather than childhoods. She believes boys and girls are taught their varying money views. Other experts arrive at the same conclusions but opt for nature over nurture. Ann Moir, for example, who has a Ph.D. in genetics and wrote the controversial bestseller Brain Sex (Dell, $10), argues that sex influences the way the brain processes information. "Women and men," she says, "are different biologically, and that extends to brains as well as bodies." Why this sudden awakening to gender differences? One reason may be that the baby boomers who originally championed the unisex society have noticed significant differences between their own sons and daughters. A more compelling reason is that money is to be made in exploiting those differences. Reports David Kahn, publisher of a start-up personal-finance newsletter, MoneyWorks for Women: "Companies are learning that they have to offer more than pink letterhead, frilly stationery and hollow promises to appeal to women." Many financial services firms, eyeing a huge, untapped market, are now actively wooing women by researching their needs and inclinations. This month, for example, Prudential Securities is launching a series of seminars for its brokers intended to sensitize them to the distaff approach to finances and investing. In December the firm will introduce a newsletter that targets female clientele. And early next year, Janus Funds will kick off a national, women-only ad campaign with slogans like "A woman's place is in the markets." To be sure, no individual can be pigeonholed into neat gender roles. Yet sex tendencies -- attitudes and behavior with respect to money -- are increasingly being uncovered. It helps to be aware of these tendencies if you want to avoid conflicts with spouses, partners, siblings, colleagues and friends of the opposite sex. To map the gender territory, MONEY interviewed more than four dozen financial pros, psychologists and researchers. In this story, we examine five key topics -- income, spending, saving, investing and borrowing -- and offer advice for each sex on dealing with la difference.
SHE SAYS: Money is important, but it's not the only thing. I'd rather have work I love and a boss I like. HE SAYS: I'm worth as much as I'm getting and I better be getting more than the next guy.
Alas, poor men. Breadwinners since the days when bringing home the bacon meant dragging wild pigs back to the cave, most men still can't resist beating their chests around kitchen tables. "A man's salary is a scorecard of his success," says Robert Nadel, a psychologist and New York City compensation consultant. Women, on the other hand, view salary as only one measure of professional achievement, and they are much less confident than men about their long-term earning potential. That hardly means women are less money-hungry than men -- just check out Madonna's career. Rather, most material girls may simply be more pragmatic about their chances at competing dollar for dollar against men. Although women now account for 46% of the labor force, they still earn 26% less than their male counterparts. As a result, women tend to emphasize job aspects other than salary. For example, a survey this year of 2,958 workers by the Families and Work Institute, a New York City research firm, showed that women were 25% more likely than men to cite their boss' characteristics as a "very important" reason for taking their current job and 56% more likely than men to consider stimulating work as another key factor. The fact that women are much less confident than men about their earning power informs many of their financial decisions. Says Victoria Felton-Collins, author of Divorce and Money (Nolo, $19.95): "Men see money as a flow that just keeps on coming, while women see it as a pool that can be drained empty." MONEY says: As women make further strides toward salary equality, conflicts with partners are bound to heat up -- particularly when a wife makes more than her husband. "The spouse who earns more typically wants to have more decision- making power," says New York City psychotherapist Linda Barbanel. "But couples must remember that in marriage, decision-making should be fifty-fifty. It should not depend on who makes more."
HE SAYS: I work hard and deserve a reward. If I want a new sports car, I'll buy one. SHE SAYS: I decide where my paycheck goes. If I want a new dress, I'll buy one.
As if following a straight line from Lucy and Ricky Ricardo to Al and Peg Bundy, one of the most enduring American cultural stereotypes features the female rampaging through a megamall trying on clothes while her tightfisted husband stands outside the dressing rooms, glowering. But the reality is much more complicated than that. Women are branded as shop-till-they-drop spendaholics because they shop more often than men do. According to a 1991 study by Maritz Marketing Research, fewer than half of all men buy their own clothing and toiletries, vs. more than four out of five women. The result, says Olivia Mellan, a Washington, D.C. psychotherapist: "Women were expected to procure the family's needs and then became stereotyped for their tendencies to spend money." But women have hardly cornered the market on splurging. In a recent survey by Mediamark Research in New York City, the percentage of men and women who describe themselves as impulse buyers was virtually identical -- 33.6% for men compared with 34.2% for women. The sexes are prone to spend at different stages of their lives, however, and for different reasons. Women tend to treat themselves and to spend indulgently in the first few years of their careers: It's a declaration of freedom. But as women get older, says Denver financial planner Larry Howes, they become "much more objective in their spending. They see money as the only tool to deal with the world, and they are careful about how they spend it." For men, the cycle is reversed. They often turn into mondo-shoppers as they age. Doubters need only drop by the nearest Mercedes or Porsche dealership and count the number of men driving two-seaters off the lot. Says Howes: "As men grow older and experience success, spending becomes less objective and more whimsical." And because men are confident about their earning power, they find it easier than women to pull the trigger on large purchases. In the Maritz survey the only categories in which men accounted for more purchasing decisions than women was furnishings and cars. "Men are more likely than women to boast about the amount of money they spend on a trip, car or house," says Georgetown University professor of linguistics Deborah Tannen, the author of You Just Don't Understand: Women and Men in Conversation (Ballantine, $12). MONEY says: Couples can avoid arguing about "unnecessary" purchases, suggests financial counselor Hayden, by budgeting money so that each partner can fulfill some individual needs in addition to their common goals. Establishing that each partner has a right to spend some money indulging themselves eliminates a great deal of misunderstanding and conflict. Says Tannen: "When it comes to money, men may feel they're asking permission if they must have a discussion every time they want to make a purchase."
SHE SAYS: I can't seem to put away any money for my old age. Besides, my husband has a pension. HE SAYS: I'm building quite a good nest egg. You can't start saving too early.
Logic dictates that women would be putting away every dime they've got -- what with the odds of outliving their husbands by six years and the almost fifty- fifty chance they will get divorced. But in truth women are not as smart as men about saving. And in fact, the majority of women don't save enough. A study released last summer by Merrill Lynch showed that women save only about half of what men do on average. What's more, women start saving later than their male counterparts do. Of the people polled, only 46% of women ages 45 to 64 had started saving for retirement before the age of 40, vs. 67% of the men. "When you consider that women are saving only 52% of what men save, even though women earn 70% of what men do, you see it's more than the pay-parity problem at work," says Esther Berger, author of Money Smart: Secrets Women Need to Know (Simon & Schuster, $22). Women, it seems, continue to count on Prince Charming to provide: "Too many women still give the responsibility for saving away to a man, and they don't think about the future," says New York City financial planner Karen Altfest. But change is afoot. The trend among newlyweds is toward having three bank accounts: yours, mine and ours. Says Judith Langer, a market researcher and consultant in New York City: "Whether they work in or out of the home, women believe they are entitled to control some of their own money." That bid for independence, however, can cause conflict -- and guilt. "It's a loaded issue for people, especially for women, to say they want to keep their money separate," says Berger. "A woman whose husband is against the idea may decide she doesn't want to do it." Such concerns about alienating a partner have unfortunate results, such as secret stashes of money. Last May, a Mother's Day story written by Bettijane Levine in the Los Angeles Times asked male and female readers to send in the best advice they ever received from their mothers. One of the most common responses? Hide money from your mate. Such sneaky savings were not mere emergency cushions, either. "One woman hid money for years and used it to pay her kids' college bills," says Levine. MONEY says: Hiding funds sets up barriers. "While it's smart to have some separate money you can spend as you wish, couples shouldn't keep secret money," says planner Altfest. And each partner should take on some of the responsibility for saving for his or her own future -- say, in a company 401(k) or in an Individual Retirement Account.
HE SAYS: I've got a great tip on a hot stock. It's risky, but that's how you beat the market. SHE SAYS: I want a steady return, and I don't want to lose any money.
% Linda Carlson, 42, and Jim Beaty, 45, of Seattle have always seen eye to eye on money matters throughout the course of their nine-year marriage -- except when it has come to investments. Says Linda: "Jim will suggest high-risk ideas, and then I glare across the kitchen table at him." Most of the time, men are much more willing to take risks with money than are women. One reason, again, is men's higher earning power. Another, related reason: Women have a general inability to trust themselves when it comes to finances. In a 1992 survey by Oppenheimer Management, the New York City-based mutual fund company, 41% more men than women said they knew how a mutual fund worked. This confidence gap starts early and holds true even for younger people who presumably were raised in an era of blurring gender boundaries. A survey of teenagers by the Boston money-management firm Liberty Financial found that male junior high and high school students were almost twice as likely as their female peers to consider themselves very knowledgeable about money and investments. In most cases, though, Liberty Financial found there was actually little difference in knowledge between the male and female students. One byproduct of women's continuing financial jitters is a tendency to be overcautious -- to stick money in ultrasafe CDs or Treasury bills. Says Oppenheimer president Bridget Macaskill: "Women see investing risk as one dimensional -- the possibility of losing money. So they tend to favor conservative investments." By contrast, men don't worry so much about making a financial mistake, and they are more likely to seek investments that will outpace the rise in prices, such as stocks. That has a lot to do with male competitiveness. "A man will often talk about outperforming the Dow or some other benchmark," says Macaskill. "Women don't understand that just holding on to your money is not good enough, that you lose purchasing power." Men think more about beating inflation." MONEY says: Investing is one area in which gender differences can happily complement each other, since a portion of a couple's portfolio should be what Berger calls sleep-at-night money, while another portion should be invested to beat inflation. Says Berger: "There's room for risk and caution in every individual's investment portfolio."
HE SAYS: Everyone needs to borrow money at one time or another. No big deal. SHE SAYS: I'm uncomfortable owing lots of money. How do I know I'll be able to pay it back?
An American Express study this year found that women are more likely than men to carry an unpaid credit-card balance from month to month and to have more than $1,000 in credit-card debt. But when it comes to big-ticket borrowing, such as a loan for a small business or investment, women grow so risk-adverse that they may stymie opportunity. Says Rebecca Maddox, president of Capital Rose, a Philadelphia company that finances and advises women-owned businesses: "A woman tends to borrow only what she needs, whereas a man says: 'If I could get $250,000, I'll borrow $250,000.'" This difference may be owing to lack of confidence about future earning power and the ability to pay back loans. While prudence may be admirable, it can also hinder women from starting a dream business or buying a dream home. Men often see a large loan as conferring the same cachet as a luxury car -- it's a sign they have arrived. "A woman wants a nice house for her family to be comfortable. A man wants a home for others to admire and is willing to take a bigger mortgage to get it," says Steven Enright, a financial planner in Westwood, N.J. Such hubris, of course, often gets guys into trouble, because they're more apt to overextend and then are slower to admit the problem. During the first eight months of 1993, for instance, nearly twice as many single women as men sought help from Budget and Credit Counseling Services, a nonprofit agency in New York City. The average debt load: $3,844 for men compared with $3,108 for women. Says Counseling Services president Luther Gatling: "Men tend to sweep debt problems under the rug." MONEY says: Couples who argue about owing money, suggest financial planners, must examine all of their spending habits before they can make any changes. "The couple has to be honest and open about credit problems they've had in the past," says Gatling. How do you know if adjustments are necessary? When both partners together have more than 20% of their take-home pay devoted to nonmortgage debt, the household is in trouble. But fights about money are often about deeper issues concerning future security, status and self-image. Says author Felton-Collins: "Couples need to ask each other what owing money means to them, not in terms of the dollars and cents but the feelings it sparks. Only then can you find mutually satisfying solutions."