Since April is Financial Literacy Month, let’s look at how women fare, why financial education is essential, and actions we can take to change things for the better. Knowledge about finances is a basic life skill that applies to everyone. Yet it is well documented that financial literacy rates in the U.S. are woefully inadequate, leaving most people ill-prepared to make informed decisions that can last a lifetime. The negatives of inadequate financial education can be particularly severe for women.
For over 32 years, I worked in financial services as a corporate and nonprofit leader, Certified Financial Planner®, professor, and founding director of the Center for Women at The American College of Financial Services. I taught personal finance courses to thousands; performed research on the financial literacy and economic well-being of both genders; and advised individual clients. Sadly, I have witnessed just how easy it can be to lose economic security due to lack of knowledge, poor decision making, inadequate understanding of alternatives, abdicating financial responsibility, and becoming overwhelmed in times of crisis. I have also seen how uninformed consumers can easily become victims of predatory sales practices.
Financial Risks Women Face
Women and girls are especially vulnerable to lifelong financial risks. Study after study affirm that American women face the following vulnerabilities:
- Under-earn and under-own compared to men across all income and asset-ownership categories.
- More likely to experience chronic disabling conditions, be or become single, take time from employment to give care to their children, spouses and/or parents, experience time poverty, live longer, and require nursing home care—further constraining already slim resources.
- Suffer impoverishment at significantly higher rates across all age groups and virtually all ethnicities than do men.
- Often fall massively short in retirement savings. This is troubling in light of greater longevity rates for females. It is especially concerning for single and widowed females as these recent projections from the Employee Benefit Research Institute reveal.
The Financial Literacy Gender Gap
Exacerbating the economic risks that women face is the financial literacy gender gap—a divergence that starts early in life. A 2022 study by Charles Schwab and the Girls Scouts, revealed that while teenage girls and young women were more interested in financial planning than their male counterparts, they had 60 percent less in savings despite spending percent less. Further, young men were twice as likely as young women to have investment accounts (although most young adults do not invest at all).
The gender gap in financial literacy persists and grows through adulthood. Academic and industry research studies reveal that while both genders score low on financial literacy tests, scores for women fall behind those for men. For example, recent quantitative research by The American College of Financial Services found that while approximately one in four men “passed” (more than 60 percent correct answers) a 32-question survey on basic retirement literacy, only about one in ten women achieved the same result. Other research points to lower levels of financial confidence and lag men in investment, insurance, savings, and borrowing wherewithal.
Considering the economic risks females face, along with retirements in jeopardy, the lack of financial illiteracy itself is a compounding,and preventable, risk factor. As we face an imperiled Social Security system, each of us needs to address profound and dangerous gaps in financial knowledge with urgency.
The Good News
Fortunately, financial education can substantially change lives for the better. A recent meta-analysis published by the National Institutes of Health affirms both the correlative and causative relationship between financial literacy to economic wellness. Financially knowledgeable individuals are more likely to:
- Better manage debt and avoid predatory lenders.
- Plan, save, and invest for the future.
- Understand financial products.
- Protect themselves against longevity risk in retirement
Three Simple Steps for Change
These combined factors compel us to passionately advocate for high quality and comprehensive personal finance education, especially for those most at risk. The lack of sound financial education should never be another risk factor anyone faces. Here are three things we can all do:
- LEARN. It’s up to us to seize opportunities to learn. Be a sponge. Learn as much as you can. Check out the many FREE, HIGH QUALITY and UNBIASED resources Moneyweave® Academy offers. As a nonprofit, we have no sales agenda. Our mission is pure—to provide trustworthy financial education that inspires financial confidence, clarity and control for women. We also suggest other great sources of objective financial information here.
- ACT. Information and action are useless unless we do something about what we learn. Commit to a plan, write it down, and take action to build emergency reserves; review your insurance portfolio; reduce debt, and/or increase retirement savings. Any of these actions can be started today, so don’t delay.
- ADVOCATE. Most of us were never taught personal finance in primary or secondary schools. There is a movement to change that and enable future generations to make sound financial decisions. Find out what’s happening in your state and become part of the growing number of organizations, associations, and individuals committed to requiring personal finance education in high schools. Moneyweave® Academy is proud to endorse legislation in Minnesota to this end. If you’d like to learn more about what we’re doing, please send me an email at email@example.com
If you’d like to learn more about Moneyweave® Academy, and how you can help us advance our mission, check out our website and donate here.
Now is the time to take hold of our economic future. Together, we can eradicate financial illiteracy and build a brighter future for all Americans – especially women and girls. Join us.
Mary Quist-Newins is president and executive director of MoneyWeave® Academy, a Minnesota nonprofit 501(c)(3) focused on financial literacy for women and girls. Here is her biography. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.