Look Who’s (Not) Talking

I just read a new report about women and their money—and do you know what it proves conclusively, irrefutably?

It’s time to stop studying women and their money!

Like so, so, so much research in this area, the report released in November from the Transamerica Center for Retirement Studies and Aegon, a financial services company, offers a thorough retread of all the bad news that’s already been featured in 50 or so similar studies in the last few years:

  • Women are ambivalent about managing their money.
  • They’re worried about retirement, yet…
  • …most aren’t saving or planning for their futures.

But there was one thing that made my jaw hit the keyboard.

Going global

First, the TCRS/Aegon study is international. That’s the hot new thing, btw. Financial companies have exhausted the sad stats about women in the U.S., so now they’re looking overseas. Anyway, what this study found is that women in many of the 14 other countries surveyed are even more ambivalent and clueless than American women. (Interesting, if not exactly heartening.)

For example, only 20% of women overall said they were on track to have the retirement income they’d want. (That’s pretty typical of these women-and-money studies, as was the point that 49% doubted they’d retire with a comfortable lifestyle.)

Far more intriguing were the differences in women’s financial views from one country to the next. Only 7% of Japanese women said they were on track for retirement compared to 24% of women in the U.S., for example.

Nearly 90% of Polish women said they doubted they’d have a comfortable lifestyle in retirement, versus 38% of U.S. women.

As my colleague Richard Eisenberg noted in his piece on Next Avenue (a great site, if you haven’t checked it out), some of the data from other countries were so depressing, they kinda made American women look more on top of things.

A shocker

But what really stood out from all the various stats and charts was how many women simply didn’t know whether they were on track for a comfortable retirement or not. All told, 40% said they didn’t know.

Now, I can imagine knowing that you’re not prepared for the future, or that you haven’t saved enough. But this is worse in a way: 40% of 7,956 women surveyed in 15 different countries, just don’t know where they stand financially.

Use your words

Like most of the research that emerges from big financial companies, this study landed on a proactive note about getting women auto-enrolled in 401ks and other retirement plans, and offering these plans to part-time workers (since women are far more likely to work part-time than men are). The logic being: To help women catch up on the savings front, they need greater access to actual tax-deferred savings accounts.

YES to all that.

But EZ-access to 401ks does not address the disturbing problem of the unconscious financial state of a pretty big chunk of the female population. Not knowing suggests that even if you had a retirement account, and you were throwing some money in it, you still might have your head in the sand.

Giving more women access to 401k accounts would help—yes, yes, YES, she said, yes. But something else has to happen first, or at the very least—at the same time.

We (women) have to start talking about money with each other, with the same frequency and passion that we bring to:

  • our kids
  • our weight
  • our obsessive analyses of work (or family) dynamics
  • True Detective

But I do talk about money, you protest.

Do you? Or do you mainly talk about what things cost? There’s a big difference between venting about your rent or property taxes going up—and asking your best friend how she chose her target date fund, and whether she and her husband are saving the same amount in their 401ks, or different amounts because his company has a better employer match?

Target date fund…401k…Employer match

What I’ve found over the many years I’ve been gnawing on this bone is that women crave to be fluent in finance, but they feel ashamed and self-conscious when they aren’t 100% sure they are using the vocab in the right way.

I get that. I can’t open my mouth about music of any genre for fear of sounding like a geek who spent her teenage years studying ballet instead of listening to the Red Hot Chili Peppers. Which is true.

So my question now is: How do we begin—no, NOT “the conversation.” Every flippin thing today is a “conversation.” What a fakey marketing word. I want to just talk about it. Let’s get women talking about money. That’s where the knowledge starts and confidence can take root.



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