Busting common myths around women and money

august 19, 2022


Women tend to get misrepresented in the media when it comes to their financial know-how. They are often portrayed as excessive spenders rather than as earners, as part of a couple rather than as independent actors, and with language that restricts them rather than enables them to grow. Despite these myths, women tend to do better at investing for many reasons.

What they say about women and money just isn't true

Women face inevitable challenges in bolstering their financial health and saving enough for retirement. As we’ve pointed out before, they are likely to be paid less than men, are more likely to take time off work for taking care of children and parents, and usually have more years in retirement to plan for.

So it would be nice if they didn’t also have the media on their backs!

For years, the media has portrayed women as less financially competent than men1. A study last year from the UK’s Starling Bank and Brunel University confirmed these findings – and worse. Looking at popular stock photographs of women and men handling money, it found that women are more often portrayed as “childlike” in money matters, compared to men. They are more likely to be shown handling coins rather than paper bills, and stuffing money into piggy banks2.

Another Starling Bank study, this one conducted by Dr. Nick Gadsby of the semiotics and culture agency The Answer, looked at the language used in financial stories pitched to men and women. It found a similar dichotomy3:

  • 65% define women as excessive spenders advising them to limit,  and take better control of shopping “splurges.”
  • Nearly 90% of female-targeted articles focus on small ways to save money.
  • 47% focus on combined income issues, often with stories on sharing expenses and what’s deemed “fair.”
  • 33% of articles mention the woman’s responsibility to support the family.

In short, women are often portrayed as excessive spenders rather than as earners, as part of a couple rather than as independent actors, and with language that restricts them rather than enables them to grow.

On the other hand, the study’s findings on how men are portrayed and talked to were very different4:

  • 73% of articles targeting men talked about the importance of making big investments.
  • 70% used the notion of enhancing your status as a man (and getting ahead of your fellow man) as a key benefit to managing finances.
  • Nearly 60% recommended trading solutions and investment portfolio management apps.
  • Over 50% offered advice on the subject of mitigating risks when investing.

Men are more generally portrayed as earners, not spenders; as making investments, not splurging; as independent actors rather than just part of a couple.

Women who internalize the message that they can’t competently manage, save, and invest money may find that attitude turning into a self-fulfilling prophecy that stands in the way of achieving their best financial futures. The persistent message that women handle money less effectively than men is more than wrong; it’s ironic. As we’ve pointed out before, women tend to outperform men in investments, earning 40 basis points more, on average. Over time, that can add up to hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Women do better at investing for several reasons. For example, they tend to achieve a better, more profitable balance between risk and reward. They also conduct more research before investing. And women trade less frequently than men, particularly on a loss, so they don’t lock in losses as often or run up as much in fees5.

That’s hardly the image portrayed in the media.

Of course, women also face distinctive challenges when designing and implementing a plan for their financial futures: a longer life expectancy likely means a relatively longer retirement to fund, while lower pay and fewer full-time years on the job can mean less money available to save and invest for that retirement. Now is the time to overcome these challenges and free yourself from the media myths that can keep you from realizing your true ability to plan and invest for your future.

How do you do that? That’s the subject of our next blog.

1. "#MakeMoneyEqual," Starling Bank, February 2018

2. "Starling fuels campaign to improve representation of women and money," Evie Rusman, Retail Banker International, May 21, 2021

3. "#MakeMoneyEqual," Starling Bank, February 2018

4. Ibid.

5. "Why Women Are Better Investors," Emily Guy Birken and Benjamin Curry, Forbes Advisor, March 30, 2021

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