Today on Ask the Bitches, we’ve got a GREAT question about whether women need different financial advice than men. And it was asked by… A MAN?!
(Cue: crashing thunder, rain SFX, opening cords of “It’s Raining Men.”)
That’s right, doubters and haters. Despite our joyless misandrist ways, we’ve got male readers. We’ve even got male readers who are so into what we talk about they’re willing to pay us for our work by becoming Patreon donors!
One such donor asked us a thought-provoking question about gender and money that initially kinda stumped me. In short: do women need different financial advice than men?
I had a knee-jerk reaction to say “no” and leave it at that. (Helpful!) But as I thought about it, I realized there are some significant biological and cultural differences worth discussing. Let’s start by reading the particulars of Patron Mat’s excellent question.
Dear Piggy and Kitty,
Thanks for your amazing insights and unique viewpoints. After getting my financial house in order, friends and acquaintances and coworkers asked me how I did it. It ended up spiraling into a financial coaching side business. I’m three years in and I absolutely love it. I make a difference in real people’s day-to-day lives, and I’m proud to say that the Bitches have been a big influence on me.
Recently, I’ve had more single female clients come to me, ranging from Gen X divorcees handling finances for the first time to wide-eyed Gen Z’ers just about to start their first job. My advice for them is the same as my male clients.
But should it be?
The only gender-specific coaching advice I’ve ever heard is that “women prefer security and men prefer growth,” which always struck me as somewhat sexist? I’m sure that there are women that get hot and bothered by a significant ROI!
What are your best tips for how a male financial coach can fight against—or at least avoid accidentally contributing to—the patriarchal part of the “patriarchal capitalist hellscape?” As their coach, I want to acknowledge these women’s unique experiences and challenges.
I’m assuming, of course, that you haven’t already solved the global gender wage gap, pregnancy penalties, workplace sexism, or other such challenges by the time you get this question. Though I wouldn’t be surprised!– Bitches Get Riches Patreon Donor Mat
What a lovely question from Mat!
Overall, I agree with him that financial planning for women and men should look really, really similar. And I 100% agree that the risk vs. safety thing is a sexist stereotype. But there’s also useful and truthful aspects in that cliché. I’ll get to that.
But there are some legitimate distinctions someone like Mat would want to take into consideration.
I’m going to call out three biological differences and three cultural differences that contribute so how women need different financial advice. The biological differences—at least at this point in history—seem pretty fixed. The cultural differences are significant, but collectively self-imposed. And I hope to see them diminish or vanish in my lifetime.
3 biological reasons women need difference financial advice
Let’s start with biology. Which, coincidentally, is where my straight-A report card streak ended in high school.
The gender binary in personal finance
First, I want to acknowledge the important fact that our society is coming into a much richer definition of gender than it previously held.
Traditional cultural concepts describe gender as a binary, with people being either male or female. If you’re like me, you grew up learning that people with XY chromosomes / baseball caps were men, and people with XX chromosomes / massive triangle skirts were women, and that was that!
Mercifully, that view is evolving quickly. The majority of Americans under 35 now believe that gender exists on a complex spectrum informed by many biological, psychological, and cultural factors. People who defy the gender binary are more visible, supported, and studied than ever before.
Perhaps as a result, 1.2 million Americans now identify as trans, nonbinary, or genderqueer. I suspect that number will continue to climb throughout my lifetime as we develop more nuanced and compassionate ways to talk about sex and gender. BGR is a trans-inclusive personal finance blog. Piggy and I do our best to keep genderqueer readers in mind when we write articles like this:
All that said, we’ll be talking about gender in a binary way on and off throughout this article. I do so not to uphold the gender binary, but rather to critique and deconstruct traditional financial advice (which is hella sexist). Additionally, all the statistics and studies I could find to support my points divide their data between cisgender men and women only. I’ve done my best to keep the context clear in each section.
Biological difference #1: Women tend to live longer
On average, women tend to live about five years longer than men.
Maybe you’re a glowingest-brain overthinker like myself, and said “wait, is that biological, or could it be cultural too?” After all, many of the factors that drag men’s life expectancy down—like substantially higher rates of suicide and occupational injury deaths—seem to stem from patriarchal sexism upon men. (Remember, systemic patriarchy harms everyone!)
However, this does seem to be a fact of mammalian biology. Among over a hundred animal species studied, females lived an average of 18% longer than males. Humans actually have a much smaller gendered life expectancy gap at only 8%.
The advantage seems to correlate to favor animals with repeating chromosome pairs, as the opposite is true with birds, whose males are typically ZZ and outlive females with ZW chromosomes. But it’s complicated! Because additional chromosomes (like XXY humans with Klinefelter Syndrome) have their own health challenges.
… Bet you didn’t start out reading this article thinking you were gonna learn about bird chromosomes! THE MORE YA KNOW, BITCHES!
From a financial perspective, living 8% longer should have a large impact on planning. All other things being equal, women should plan to retire with more money for this reason alone. So that’s one pretty significant reason women need different financial advice than men.
Biological difference #2: Women become disabled more often
Across all age groups, women are more likely to be or become disabled than men. A full 10% of women worldwide are disabled.
If you want to know why, it’s… incredibly complicated. After all, disability is a HUGE umbrella category encompassing thousands of different circumstances. They can be physical, developmental, behavioral, or sensorial challenges present from birth or acquired later in life.
One thing that’s clear is that this is the trade-off to that longer lifespan. Sadly, living longer doesn’t make one automatically healthier. After all, age and disability status correlate. And repeating chromosomes open the door to serious lifelong health challenges like autoimmune disorders that also impact men, but at magnitudes lesser frequency.
And that’s where finances come into play. I think this reality should factor into retirement planning. If I were in Mat’s shoes, I’d make sure to open discussions around topics like long-term disability insurance for women planning their futures.
Biological difference #3: Babies
“What’s the deal with women?! Always shopping and having babies—can ya stop for a second, I’m trying to sleep!”–Me, in full Jerry Seinfeld drag
There are many models of parenting—parents who adopt, trans/nonbinary people who give birth, men who provide primary childcare, and women who don’t reproduce. (Piggy and I are both childfree by choice, so obviously we don’t believe BAYBEEZ are a defining characteristic of l’expérience du féminin.)
So don’t chuck shit at my head! This is obviously a huge generalization. But women are usually the ones birthing and acting as the primary early caregiver to babies.
I expect that many women will want financial plans that incorporate reproduction as a life goal. And friends, it is EXPENSIVE:
- The out-of-pocket cost to give birth to a child in America is $13,000 on average. And yes, that’s with employer-sponsored health insurance!
- A whopping 33% of Americans need fertility treatments like IVF in order to conceive. These treatments are extraordinarily expensive and not something a parent-to-be has necessarily planned/saved for. And it may lead to serious financial and physical complications like multiples. (Piggy’s spouse is a twin—and his parents definitely had to use fertility treatments.)
- Many people don’t realize that alternatives like adoption can be just as expensive. Basically, whatever medical fees you avoid hit you as court costs and legal fees. This site has a great breakdown if you’re interested.
So if I were financially coaching a lady who mentioned wanting kids in the future, I would urge her to start researching early and beef up her emergency fund substantially.
Caregiving as a biological function versus cultural expectation
To me, there’s a big distinction between caregiving as a biological function and caregiving as a cultural expectation.
It makes sense to me that the person who physical creates the child assumes most of the early caregiving.
When my baby nephew was born, my partner and I spent a ton of time helping out his parents. We washed dishes, cooked meals, ran errands, and took turns feeding the baby and rocking him to sleep. But I was struck by the reality that no matter how much we helped, we could never fully relieve his mother. I could give the baby a bottle while my sister took a nap—but she couldn’t sleep for more than two hours without waking to pump.
She kept this untenable schedule for months. If she were a prisoner of war instead of a parent, her schedule would’ve violated the Geneva Conventions. That’s probably why an overwhelming majority of Americans believe that we, as a society, should absorb the cost of paid parental leave. It feels inhuman to expect you to clock into a day job when you’re already doing that incredible labor.
What doesn’t make sense is why that pattern continues past this period of physical interdependency.
… Yeah, I’ll get into that more later.
3 cultural reasons women need difference financial advice
In his question, Mat preemptively acknowledged several cultural realities for women that negatively impact their finances. Pay gaps, leadership gaps, caregiving gaps, yada yada.
All great subjects and well worth talking about. Which is why we talk about them so damn much. If we’re the Rolling Stones, they’re our Satisfaction, Wild Horses, and Paint It Black.
But here’s the thing: no one person alone can fix sexism.
Trust me, I tried!
I ain’t gonna lay things like the gender pay gap at Mat’s feet to singlehandedly solve in his capacity as One Dude. Rather, I want to really narrow the question to something he can actually directly influence. “How do these discriminatory behaviors impact long-term financial planning, and what specific advice could a financial coach consider to help offset them?”
That’s the key to getting a bite-sized portion of actionable advice.
Cultural difference #1: Women’s salaries peak and grow at different times
The first major cultural difference shows up later in life. Women’s salaries grow and peak on different schedules compared to men.
Women reach their peak earnings around 44. After that, they plateau onwards like a looping Wylie Coyote background. Men’s salaries, however, continue to grow. They don’t reach their peak until around 55, and by then, they’re earning about $100K compared to women’s $65K.
That 45-65 age period is crucial to retirement planning. It tends to be the time when children are growing/grown, people buy houses, their student loans are long gone, and they put down roots. I know that many adults don’t fully prioritize their retirement until around this age. Which is okay—our system has a lot of features designed to help late bloomers.
But a 60-year-old man playing catch-up statistically has much more leverage than a 60-year-old woman. And that’s a significant reason why women need different financial advice, especially later in life.
Cultural difference #2: Women have a more vital need for emergency funds
In his letter, Patron Mat mentioned that he’s heard the stereotype that women value financial safety above growth.
Here’s the thing: that is overall true. Statistically, it’s accurate to characterize female investors as generally more financially conservative than male investors.
- Women carry more real estate and cash in their investment portfolios, whereas men carry more volatile investments like stocks and cryptocurrency.
- They make fewer trades overall, preferring to hold instead of wheeling and dealing.
- They resist the urge to check in on their investments as frequently as men.
So clearly there’s a kernel of truth in the “women want safe investments” cliché. Unfortunately, I think it’s because a lot of the decisions women make are primarily motivated by physical safety.
- 99% of intimate partner abuse cases include financial abuse.
- 46% of women who are sexually harassed in their workplace end up switching jobs or fields to get away.
- The leading cause of death for women in their own workplaces is homicide.
I feel passionately that everyone should have an emergency fund that allows them to instantly bounce out of a bad work or life situation. But I think the negative consequences of NOT having such a safety net feel realer and more dangerous to women, and it drives their risk tolerance in understandably different ways.
Cultural difference #3: Women don’t trust themselves as investors
I really didn’t want to make a sweeping generalization about women and their self confidence. And how we all just need to #LeanIn and be a #GirlBoss or whatever.
But folks—the numbers don’t lie. Across many studies, reports, and polls, a crisis of confidence appears again and again and again.
- 75% of women feel confident with everyday financial tasks like balancing a checkbook or managing a budget. But only 19% of them feel prepared to choose long-term investments.
- Women are much more likely to hire financial professionals than men. Those who do also weigh the advice from that professional more heavily.
- 1 in 2 women keeps $20,000 in cash beyond her normal emergency fund. 1 in 5 keeps more than $100,000. IN CASH! IN THIS ECONOMY!?
What causes this crisis? In a culture that historically nurtures timid, dependent, infantilized women, it’s probably easier to ask what doesn’t cause it!
Perhaps it’s unfair to characterize this behavior as lack of confidence in women. Maybe it just seems that way because it’s contrasted with overconfidence in men! After all, 22% of men think their investments will beat the S&P 500. I don’t think that level of delusion should be the gender-neutral goal for everyone.
The reality is this: when women invest, they consistently outperform men. Their portfolios will earn 0.4% to 1% more than men’s. (And if you think that doesn’t sound like much, you obviously haven’t read enough of our rants about the strange magic of compound interest, where half a percentage point can mean thousands and thousands of dollars.)
How financial professionals can do better for women
Let’s bring this back to Mat, our male financial coach and question-asker. How should all of these factors about how women need different financial advice influence him as a financial coach to women?
Personally, I think it’d be a great idea if he explained some of these facts to women upfront to jump-start some reprogramming. I’d consider pushing female clients harder to leave their comfort zones if I truly think their portfolios are too risk-averse. Even something as simple as encouraging more conversations about money with their partners, parents, and colleagues could make a huge positive impact.
And in the interest of not acting as if “male = default,” I would adjust the way I coach men based on the same data. I’d encourage them to learn from women by saving more and diversifying wisely. I’d use data to temper their expectations of going TO THE MOON with every stonk. And I’d probably scold them for monitoring their accounts too actively, like a child with their finger in their nose. Stop picking at it!
Most importantly, if I were in Mat’s shoes, I would
trip cuz they’re gonna be several sizes larger than mine redouble my efforts to always give my clients the best possible advice. Mat has authority in this space in three ways: as a professional, as a man, and as someone who’s seen the other side of financial independence. The data shows that women are going to take his advice to heart. So I would always go the extra mile to be as scrupulously honest, ethical, and communicative as possible. When you speak about how women need different financial advice, they’ll listen. So make it count by being the best, most empowering educator you know how to be.
… Phew. Glad that’s not my job. Too much pressure, man!
Did we leave anything out?
Gotta say, this note kinda made my day when I got it. I really love how eager Mat is to be part of the solution. I’m sure his clients are in good hands!
Readers, do you think I left anything out? Is there anything you want to add for someone like Mat to consider? We have a lot of incredibly cool, supportive male allies soldiering through our hot pink little website, so let’s amplify some quality, actionable ideas for them!
If you got something valuable out of this article, please consider paying us to write more of them! You can do that at Patreon, or by donating money directly to us through our PayPal. I am DAYS away from making this my full time job, eek! That’s only possible because of readers like you who believe what we do merits a living wage. Thank you, Patrons, we seriously love you!
13 thoughts to “Ask the Bitches: “Do Women Need Different Financial Advice Than Men?””
Pssst, your AdoptTogether site link leads to an error page on their site
Thank you! I’ve fixed it.
In the article you ended a paragraph with:
“What doesn’t make sense is why that pattern continues past this period of physical interdependency.
… Yeah, I’ll get into that more later.”
Did you mean later as in a different article or did you mean to address the pattern of women as the default caregiver in cishet relationships in this article?
Hope you have a great day!
Hey Jackie! Great question. To be transparent, I hit 1,600 words on JUST that subtopic before realizing I was officially on a tangent, and it needed to be pulled out into its own article. It’s too important to be a footnote on another topic! So stay tuned for more on the subject.
Spoiler alerts that will shock no one…
Caregiving defaults to daughters and sisters. Let me tell you about the statistically average caregiver in America. She’s a woman in her 50s with both minor children AND at least one aging parent. She has at least one chronic illness herself—and she is much more likely to have a chronic illness than non-caregiving peers, suggesting the stress of caregiving is negatively impacting her health. She spends 20+ hours per week on caregiving. This labor is usually unpaid, and often forces her out of the workforce. The brothers and sons she relieves gain substantial leisure time back compared to caregiving peers, both male and female. And the pandemic highlighted the many ways in which women “absorb” the inefficiencies and inconveniences of modern life, to their great individual detriment.
Thanks for the answer and the spoilers! I look forward to reading the article later! One of my favorite things about yours and Piggy’s work is that it gives me something to forward to people so I can say “See? See???? Here is a thoroughly researched, easy to read article so you don’t have to listen to me ranting anymore”
You forgot to add one point. These brothers and sons gain valuable time to pursue their careers and recreational activities while the elder care is dumped on the backs of women – and yet invariably the bulk of the elder’s estates to the males in the family!
When women do invest in the stock market for retirement, they do a much better job. That is, they set and forget instead of trying to play with market timing. In that case, it’s men who need better advice.
May might do well to familiarize himself with other women advisors, bloggers, authors in the personal finance space. This could range from keeping tabs on what Ellevest is doing to continuing to support you guys on Patreon. While May might not want to refer all his female clients to a woman (though that may be a solution for some clients!) he would probably gain more insight and tips for his female clientele this way. I’m going to throw in reading tangential books on the US policies from food, to housing, to social security- it all intersects with people’s finances. The more you know about inequality the more you can potentially help those who are impacted by it. Example of books: How the other Half Eats, From Burning to Blueprint, Wallet Activism, Not a Financial Unicorn, and many news articles on inflation, housing prices and fed interest rates (see the Atlantic and New York Times perhaps?). I’m not exactly sure what the scope of Mat’s services are, but having the knowledge of how this country doesn’t hardly try to serve people who don’t fall under cis, white, male, ‘Christian’ umbrella anymore seems very helpful.
The statistic regarding women’s top earning year average is shocking, and very discouraging. Having just turned 50, I have absolutely seen this trend with many female colleagues. He can encourage his female clients to find mentors who can help them to navigate the landmines that come during a career (layoffs, passed over for promotions) that directly impact their earning potential.
Love you betches, but can we revisit this:
“1 in 2 women keeps $20,000 in cash beyond her normal emergency fund. 1 in 5 keeps more than $100,000. IN CASH! IN THIS ECONOMY!?”
Because, uh, it’s a misleading statistic. I’m confident you’re not suggesting that 20% of women have an extra $100,000 in cash knocking around? And that 50% of women have an extra $20,000? Because that’s just cannot accurate. Are there qualifiers missing to the women described? Women above a certain net worth? Or with an emergency fund at all? Or women who have a certain amount invested? Or… something?
God, I don’t want to be nit-picky myself, but your advice is so good, so well-reasoned to see a…blatantly wrong statistic right in the middle of things tends to undermine it all. (I also am taking stats right now for a second degree career change, so I may be a tiny bit sensitive to it).
Actually this sounds right to me. Until I contracted a chronic disease, I was making $25k-$35k per year in my late 20s. I had about $35k in an emergency investment fund with Vanguard that I’d built up over the years. Sure, I didn’t have that much when I was 20 and just out of uni! But for a millennial woman, that’s a reasonable amount to have been able to put away. Compare that to my ex-husband, same age, who was making not-quite-6-figures in our late 20s. He had considerably less put away than I did. I don’t know about many other men’s finances, but for the women in my life, I know it was common to have a good five figures put away in investments for emergencies (as well as future planning–like one day being able to afford a condo).
I realize that’s all anecdotal! But I think that’s what you were addressing; the stats didn’t match what you’d seen IRL. So I guess all I’m really saying is that it does match what this millennial woman has seen IRL lol.
I don’t know if you already have a Bitchtastic article about life insurance policies or are planning one yet, but I’d like to bring that up here. I’d recommend getting a whole life insurance policy- preferably with a fairly significant sum- and getting it early. This advice doesn’t just apply to women, honestly, but it does fall in line with a lot of the points you made. My mother just retired and lost her employer-sponsored life insurance, so I spent several weeks shopping around and learning more about the life insurance market than I ever realized there was to know. x_x She’s older now and on very little income, so we have to deal within our limitations, but hopefully this can help some other people.
Bio # 1 and #2 AND Culture #2: If you live long enough, you can borrow from your whole life insurance policy for emergencies or even to buy a freaking house! Some people manage to make money off of their policies, but uh, I would honestly just consider that a bonus. It’s definitely worth looking into disability or accident riders, especially if you’re still earning income.
# 3: Well obviously, if you care about your kids or other dependents, you want to make sure they’re taken care of when you’re gone. Probably. Term life insurance is great in certain circumstances, but if you’re talking to a Gen Z’er or later millennial who plans on having kids and is seeking financial advice, I would honestly do my best to see if they could spare a few dollars a month on a permanent policy. That fee will not (should not, anyway) change in their lifetime, and will be infinitely more affordable in the long run than if they suddenly realize they need to spend upwards of $150 a month when they hit 60. Rates ARE cheaper for women, just because they do tend to live longer and insurance companies consider them less likely to die early/from risky accidents and earn quicker payouts. Some are starting to acknowledge NB customers, but seem to treat them analytically, so far, as female.
One thing I will also add is not to assume, despite common wisdom, that divorce proceedings usually fall in favor of the ex-wife. In fact, when men bother fighting for child custody and finances and such, it often goes in their favor. This does depend on state laws and such, so make sure your advice to women goes by their local guidelines or at least point them in the direction to do their own research. Get a pre-nup! And, crucially, KEEP (at least some) OF YOUR FINANCES SEPARATE. I don’t care how much you trust him, you need to keep and establish some form of financial independence. This can, and often, goes hand in hand with an emergency fund.
…how long-winded was that? Sorry guys.
I think there’s a typo. This article says about a third of American adults have used fertility treatments to conceive. But the linked article that was cited says that about a third of American adults have either used fertility treatments or that they know someone who has. Which is way different. That seems to say that 2 thirds of American adults don’t know anyone who has used fertility treatments.
Love your work, I’m just super picky about statistics, especially given how often I see them misused:( You two, I at least trust, didn’t do it on purpose.