Women & Money: Factors influencing women s financial decision-making

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1 Women & Money: Factors influencing women s financial decision-making Professor Roslyn Russell, RMIT University Professor Amalia Di Iorio, La Trobe University Introduction Financial wellbeing can be considered as a function of structural, interpersonal and individual factors. The gendered experience is embedded in these domains. Examples of the structural conditions that impact women s financial wellbeing are: inequality of pay between men and women; imbalance in family care responsibilities; and financially disadvantageous outcomes in family breakdowns. The interpersonal context involves the family structures, gender roles within the family; workplace and social conditions that influence financial behaviour. At a more micro-level are individual financial behaviours that are usually the sole focus for industry, policy and research. However, if the individual financial behaviour of women is considered in isolation of the broader environmental constructs, many of the most important factors influencing women s relationship with money will be missed. Researchers and industry have become more interested in exploring the role of gender in recent years, in relation to problematic trends such as women s consistently low levels of superannuation compared to men. The higher rate of home ownership among younger women is also a trend that has been of recent interest. This research will explore the interactions between the individual, interpersonal and structural environments to determine the factors that are most critical in women s financial decision-making. Our research team is currently focusing not so much on the actual financial decisions that women make, but on the factors that underpin or influence how they make decisions about money. Typically, financial decision-making models start with a snapshot of a person s socio-demographic factors along with an assessment of risk preferences and level of financial literacy to predict the type of decision that is the most likely outcome. While all these factors are relevant, there is a tendency to view gender as more or less equal to all other factors. This research has doubleclicked on the gender factor to explore in greater detail the factors and interactions that drive women s financial decision-making. We analyse gender not simply as another a characteristic but rather, a factor that has a profound influence at all levels of experience critically informing the way that women view money and how it shapes their financial wellbeing. 1

2 Background When considering the structural, interpersonal and individual contexts that shape women s financial decision-making behaviour, three concepts have informed our analysis: i) self-efficacy, ii) socialisation, and iii) financial knowledge and capabilities. Self-efficacy Self-efficacy has been recognised as a significant variable in consumer behaviour. It can be simply defined as having the confidence in one s ability to deal with a situation without being overwhelmed (Hira, 2010, p.15). Psychologists have found that if a person has lower levels of self-efficacy they are more likely to focus on feelings of failure rather than success. People with higher levels of self-efficacy are more likely to cope better in adverse situations (Park and Folkman, 1997). Therefore it is not surprising that the concept of self-efficacy is important when considering a person s ability to successfully deal with financial issues. Socialisation Financial socialisation can be defined as the process of acquiring and developing values, attitudes, standards, norms, knowledge and behaviors that contribute to the financial viability and well-being of the individual (Danes, 1994, p.128). Socialisation takes into account the political and economic climates experienced globally and locally; socio-demographic factors; family upbringing; education; specific life events experienced through childhood and as an adult. The process of socialisation is continual and our experiences (life events) teach us lessons and potentially lead us to alter our expectations and beliefs. Money does not exist in a vacuum but is part of an elaborate web of dynamic social structural conditions within which people act and interact (Wennerlind, 2001, p. 557). During the socialisation process, there are a range of agents that are important in transmitting norms, attitudes, motivations and behaviours. Socialisation agents are typically parents, friends or peers, role models and information sources such as education, media / internet and workplaces. Financial knowledge & capabilities Financial capability includes both the ability to act (knowledge, skills, confidence and motivation) and the opportunity to act (access to appropriate financial products and institutions (Sherradon, 2010, p. 2). Financial knowledge and skills are developed from a range of experiences socialisation, financial education and guidance, participation (learning by doing), and by critical life events buying a house, having a child, divorce and death of a spouse. In recent times, the reaction by government, industry and community sectors to the problems of financial hardship and financial exclusion has been to provide more 2

3 financial education. Low levels of financial literacy can be a factor in financial hardship however it may not be the cause or the complete answer. Method This research is funded by the Australian Research Council (ARC). It involves two phases of data collection a qualitative component to identify and explore the factors important to women s financial decision-making and money management behaviour. Based upon the findings of the first phase, a survey instrument will be developed and disseminated to approximately 2000 Australian women towards the end of This presentation will share the findings from this first phase of the research. In 2012 we conducted 12 discussion groups with 114 women including specific groups of cultural, vulnerable, and older women. We used a semi-structured approach in the discussion groups that focused on the past and money; current views about money; and the future and money. Phase 1 results and implications 1. To better understand women s financial decision-making we need to look to the past and widen our view to include more structural and interpersonal factors than just the individual behaviour. We found that socialisation especially childhood experiences play a very large and significant role in shaping women s views, confidence and attitudes about money. My mother, worked for Electrolux, and used to say the most important thing was pay your bills on time because if you don t she used to have to deal with people who were getting chased for debt and things like that. So that was about the sum total of my education around money. The socialisation experience encompasses the broader structural barriers that impact on the circumstances lived by women. Financial outcomes for women were heavily influenced by perceived societal roles for women; caring responsibilities within the family; disadvantageous outcomes of family breakdowns. It s a mother s job to go without. They [children] come first. I would go without, but big deal you know Life events were also influential in developing self-efficacy and capabilities in dealing with financial issues: 3

4 When the marriage came to an end, I had to get across the whole financial thing. I mean, suddenly there were house payments, car loan, credit card to be paid off and I was going what the hell? How am I going to do this? 2. Financial education / information are not enough to bring about effective decision-making, and may not make any difference as a stand-alone strategy. Women having trust in sources of information was more critical than the information itself. If there was an absence of a trustworthy source, it seemed more likely that no decision would be made rather than risk making the wrong one. Women were not sure where to go to obtain reliable information. There is a sense of distrust or mystery that surrounds the idea of financial planners. Negative stories were prevalent in the discussion groups either experienced by the women themselves or shared by friends and family. The negative stories far outweighed the number of good stories. Even more telling, was the lack of action and uncertainty around knowing what to do especially when the women thought there was little use without sufficient resources to plan with. I don t want to go and see planners or anything because I know how they are Having information or knowledge wasn t enough to motivate women to make changes to their financial management habits. Some had always done the right thing investing in property, putting money away for retirement and being frugal - but were feeling that this wasn t bringing them the happiness they thought it might. One woman from the baby boomer generation questioned whether it might be better to just go travelling rather than pay off the mortgage. The major motivation for seeking financial education or information was to provide a more comfortable, easier life for their families or children more so for the present rather than the future. Women need to be motivated by reasons that resonate with them rather than doing something because they hear it is the right thing to do. Women who were in financial hardship did not tend to see any point in planning for the future because they did not have spare money to do anything with. Most commonly, making ends meet was the primary financial goal. Baby boomer women who were relatively close to retirement age knew they didn t have enough money for their future. They spoke about their uncertainty. Despite this, they did not speak about seeking more knowledge. The prevalent view among this sub-group was that it was too late. 4

5 3. Women s financial journeys are emotional When women were asked about financial decisions, the answers / examples given were most commonly couched in terms of an emotional or inter-personal experience. Financial decisions were located within the realities of family life; children; upbringing; deprivation; divorce or death. For women in this study, finances were inseparable from their lived experiences. I guess for me my financial story is very linked to my emotional story Money was most commonly discussed in the context of life stories and memories. So for me it was more around the emotional, yeah the feelings around money and how we wouldn t discuss it or the way that decisions were made or weren t made and he would always make the decisions. A little part of me agreed with it, and I thought when did I become that woman? 4. Relationships are critical To all women in the study, their relationships either past or present were paramount to their views, attitudes and use of money. The relationships were with children; partners/ spouses; parents; or even friendship circles. Providing for children was the most common significant factor in financial decisionmaking. The immediate needs of their children over-rode longer-term or financial decisions that benefited only themselves. For example I know I need to put more money away in my superannuation, I know I don t have enough but paying for school fees and uniforms and the other things for the family is what needs to be done now. Prior experience in trusting a spouse which resulted in negative outcomes was very difficult to overcome and had life-long consequences in how women viewed money and made financial decisions. After experiencing a financially abusive relationship and then re-partnering, a woman said: Now the emotional journey is having to work with somebody on a financial basis to talk about money because money is mine and I don t want to share it with you and I don t want you to know how much money I ve got or how I spend it. Money isn t much to me, it really isn t. I just live day to day. My life has made me not really care about money anymore because it just gets taken off me 5

6 5. Context is important. Financial decisions that are seemingly irrational are not necessarily so when considered within the context of a woman s life. There were women in the study who allowed all large financial decisions to be made by their partner or spouse, and in many cases this put them at significant disadvantage. For many however, this was an expression of their investment in the relationship a demonstration of their love and trust: I was led to believe that any of those big decisions was the man s role, and that carried over to my marriage, that was a dreadful mistake, because my former husband was dreadful with money. In fact that s why I ended up losing my house and everything.. For others, it was seen as a division of labour. Women, especially the baby boomers, mostly took care of all the day to day, household and family money management issues and viewed other financial jobs such as investment and longer-term financial decisions to be undertaken by the spouse. There were, however, some women whose spouses did not want to or did not feel they had the ability to be involved in household finances at any level: My husband would think a lottery ticket was a good investment However, there was a hint of resentment that these men were not pulling their weight or looking after their families properly. My husband recognises his deficiency and his inability to manage money, and in some respects he abdicates responsibility I don t feel it s appropriate because he needs to take responsibility Trust of course was a key issue as was self-efficacy. Women tended to have lower levels of self-efficacy (or perhaps interest) when it came to investment or the more long-term decisions. The lower levels of self-efficacy were more likely due to early socialisation and lack of exposure to money and money issues. Some women were afraid to have a mortgage even if it was affordable. There were examples where this view was contextualised by an experience of seeing parents suffer unexpected loss of income and subsequently lose the family home. Experiencing poverty had different outcomes for different women. For some, living frugally became a way of life even when they were earning a reasonable income and for others, they ensured their children had everything they were unable to have as children. 6

7 I don t like saying to my son I can t afford it because I heard it so much when I was growing up However, we found debt aversion to be a strong theme usually by women who have suffered hardship and poverty as an adult or child. Conclusion The woman s money is the family s money, the man s money is his money The societal structural issues, the familial, interpersonal factors provide a complex set of conditions that inevitably shape a woman s individual financial decisions. In other words, gender carries with it a bundle of other factors which are critically important to consider within the decision-making mix. Our research confirms that gender must be considered to be more than a characteristic but as a variable that very strongly shapes financial decision making and wellbeing. References Danes, S. (1994). Parental perceptions of children s financial socialization. Financial Counseling and Planning, 5, pp Hira, T. (2010). The NEFE quarter century project: Implications for researchers, educators and policy makers from a quarter century of financial education. Denver: National Endowment for Financial Education. Park, C. & Folkman, S (1997). Meaning in the context of stress and coping. Review of General Psychology, 2, pp Sherraden, M. (2010). Financial Capability: What is it, and how can it be created? CSD Working Papers No Washington University in St Louis. Wennerlind, C. (2001). Money talks, but what is it saying? Semiotics of money and social control. Journal of Economic Issues, 35 (3), pp

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