Some gender differences are real, but much financial advice is
based on stereotype.
Many studies and news media reports reinforce the idea that women
lag behind men in understanding how to handle their money.
But experts in personal finance are challenging the common
wisdom, saying that the differences in how men and women deal with
finances have been overstated. Further, they say, it does no service
to women to portray them as naive and in need of special help.
"A lot of the industry is flat-out condescending to women," said
Helaine Olen, a financial journalist and author of the book "Pound
Foolish: Exposing the Dark Side of the Personal Finance Industry."
The real problem, Ms. Olen said, is that women often earn less
money than men yet live longer. They also tend more frequently than
men to drop in and out of the labor force to stay at home with
"I'm afraid this niching of women is a way to get around the
systemic problems" that need to be addressed through public policy,
she said. Ms. Olen also said that some of the advice for women, like
to cut back on shopping, is unhelpful at best and sexist at worst.
A 2011 Gallup poll showed that men spend $11 more a day than
women, Ms. Olen wrote in her book.
Annamaria Lusardi, a professor of economics and accountancy at
George Washington University and the academic director of the Global
Financial Literacy Excellence Center, said the idea "that women
spend more is a myth." But she said there was a clear gender
difference when it came to financial literacy.
Ms. Lusardi was the co-author of a study of eight countries --
Germany, Italy, Japan, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Russia, Sweden
and the United States -- that found that the overall level of
financial literacy was low. According to the study, Americans had a
harder time with simple calculations, but no country stood out as
being particularly knowledgeable.
The study, "Financial Literacy Around the World: An Overview,"
was published in 2011 in The Journal of Pension Economics and
Ms. Lusardi said women in all the countries studied were less
likely than men to correctly answer questions about financial
literacy, particularly those that used technical terms.
The more sophisticated the question and the more financial jargon
that was used, the less likely women were to answer the questions
correctly, she said.
But she said the take-away should not be that women were more
Here is one example: "Buying a single company's stock usually
provides a safer return than a stock mutual fund." The answer's
options are true, false, do not know or refuse to answer. (The
answer is false.)
In the United States, men answered correctly 57.1 percent of the
time, compared with 46.8 percent of women. In Germany, both sexes
picked the right answer more often than those in the United States,
but the difference between the sexes was similar, with 67.6 percent
men and 56.8 percent of women scoring correctly.
But, and this is interesting, "When we took away the 'do not
know' option, women were no less likely to choose the wrong answer,"
Ms. Lusardi said. …