Financial Attitudes and Family Communication about Students' Finances: The Role of Sex Differences

By Edwards, Renee; Allen, Myria Watkins et al. | Communication Reports, April-October 2007 | Go to article overview
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Financial Attitudes and Family Communication about Students' Finances: The Role of Sex Differences

Edwards, Renee, Allen, Myria Watkins, Hayhoe, Celia Ray, Communication Reports

Past research has shown that men value money more than do women and men are less dependent on their parents in financial matters. Men and women also display different patterns of communication, with women engaging in higher levels of self-disclosure. We examined these issues in the context of young college students communicating with parents about their financial situation by conducting a multistate survey (N = 1317). Results revealed women to be more open with their parents about financial matters even after controlling for financial dependence, which also was related to openness. Financial attitudes were related to family openness.

Keywords: Family Communication; Financial Attitudes; Sex Differences


Researchers in interpersonal communication have generally overlooked economic issues as factors in relationships. The primary exception has been the study of marriage and divorce (e.g., Amato & Rogers, 1997; Schaninger & Buss, 1986; Stanley, Markman, & Whitton, 2002). Economic issues contribute to marital well-being, at least in U.S. American culture, and access to resources within the family often translates into power differentials in marriage (see Dainton & Zelley, 2006). However, little is known about the role finances play in other types of family relationships or whether sex differences in attitudes regarding money (Furnham, 1984; Hayhoe, Leach, & Turner, 1999; Newcomb & Rabow, 1999) influence family communication. The purpose of the present investigation was to examine sex differences in college students' willingness to discuss their spending behaviors with their parents as well as to investigate the relationship between college students' attitudes toward money and the openness of their communication with parents about their spending behaviors.

Although we know little about sex differences in young peoples' willingness to discuss financial issues with their parents, sex differences in attitudes toward money are well documented. We turn first to a discussion of these differences and theoretical explanations for them.

Sex Differences in Financial Attitudes

Newcomb and Rabow (1999) found college-aged men believe they have greater knowledge about money and are more confident in their financial acumen than are college-aged women. Young men regard money and those who have it more positively and believe having money makes them socially desirable more than do women. Compared to men, young women have more negative, conflicted feelings about money. These differences are consistent with earlier research by Steinrock, Stern, and Solomon (1991); they found women are higher in financial anxiety and are more aversive to risk in their handling of money. Similarly, Xiao, Noring, and Anderson (1995) found men have more favorable attitudes toward credit cards than do women. However, women are more likely to have four or more credit cards than are men (Hayhoe et al., 1999).

Other studies have found comparable sex differences in attitudes toward money in other countries. Furnham (1984) identified six types of beliefs about money and found that young women and men in Great Britain differ on several of them. Men are more obsessed with money than are women. In contrast, women are more conservative and security-conscious in their money attitudes, taking a "more old-fashioned approach to money" (p. 505). Women also believe they cannot change their economic situation and earn less than they deserve compared to men. Lynn (1993) compared men's and women's money attitudes across 20 countries. He found men scored higher than women in the valuation of money in 14 of the countries.

The cross-cultural similarity in attitudes toward money suggests that these sex differences may be partially explained by factors beyond family socialization into cultural norms. Indeed, Lippa (2002) argues that sex differences can be explained by group level factors, past biological and socioenvironmental factors, current biological influences and social settings, and individual predispositions.

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