The Emancipation of Women Through Financial Literacy





08.03.20



A gender gap exists in financial literacy, even in countries with strong gender equality. This piece discusses women and access to financial education.





It’s March. Spring is on its way and today is the celebration of International Women’s Day. New beginnings and the empowerment of women – both are in my mind as we race towards the end of the financial year. It’s the right time then to explore some of the barriers that stand between some women and financial literacy. It’s an opportunity to highlight the methods and strategies needed to enrich the women of today, for tomorrow.


Over a course of a lifetime, we will all have to make financial decisions that will have a direct impact on our long-term financial well-being. Often these decisions will be made amidst a flood of information about complex financial products. To prosper, for example, one must be able to manage personal finance matters efficiently, understand compound interest and manage savings and debt. To thrive, financial proficiency is a necessity. The ability to distinguish between the range of products available, and make decisions about investing, insurance, property, budgeting, education, retirement and tax planning is the key to wealth building and security.


Financial literacy is clearly powerful and necessary and so why is it that so many women do not have access to it? What are the consequences of that?


Research into the financial literacy gender gap, struggle to show significant findings explaining the cause. Many studies show lower results for women; for example, Lusardi and Mitchell (2011) found that only 22.5% of women could answer questions on interest, inflation and risk correctly compared to 38.3% of men. Studies considering how much financial experience or socio-demographic factors influence the gender gap have since proved negligible. Antonia Grohmann (2016) went on to investigate the role of cultural factors; results show that in countries with higher gender equality the financial literacy gender gap is much smaller; showing a positive relationship although, not significant enough. Many of you will rejoice knowing that numerical proficiency does not play a significant role in one’s financial literacy ability either; mathematical ability does not correlate with the financial gender gap. We can conclude that socio-demographic factors, cultural characteristics, and financial experience combined, all play a role in financial literacy.


It should not be surprising that a lack of confidence is also a key factor today. Low confidence has been found to have an impact on financial literacy. A recent study determined that low confidence is a major cause of lower results in financial literacy competence testing. They found that women were more likely to doubt themselves when challenged and respond with the phrase “I don’t know”, albeit knowing the correct answer. When the response “I don’t know” was removed, the gender gap diminished by 50%. As above, many studies to date show a gender difference in financial literacy, but here suggests that confidence also plays a part.


Looking at women within society today, first, we must acknowledge that we are still living in a patriarchal society riddled with invisible bias; women are consistently treated unfairly in the workplace, education, and politics. Reports for 2016 show that 26% of women held senior positions worldwide, this represents only a 3% increase since 2011. Undeniably we are witnessing improvements, but we are still miles away from equality. We need to invest in our women to rid the gender gap present within financial literacy. Below I have highlighted a selection of suggestions to tackle this.


We see a low financial literacy gender gap in countries with strong gender equality. The role of women in society directly influences the level of financial literacy and requires improvement to reduce the gap. Gender equality in the workplace should be a key area of focus, removing invisible bias and creating parity between the sexes.


Basic numeracy and education levels amongst girls and women need improving as it is evident that there are discrepancies when women are less educated than men. Countries, where boys produce better mathematics results through schooling, have better financial literacy levels. We need to reinforce the need for better education and numeracy to improve financial literacy.


Finally, I suggest educating women and girls about finance. We need to improve confidence in women and encourage an interest in the subject. The schooling system needs to implement a curriculum focused on this, teaching the mechanics of money and improving financial acumen. Women who are past the age of schooling also require financial education and need to be taught the importance of frugal living and how to manage financial resources effectively, to achieve a lifetime of financial well-being. Facilities should be put in place to encourage and create ease of access for women to improve their literacy. Technology has advanced allowing a range of learning platforms and methods. Women who experience challenges due to being solely responsible for dependants, on low incomes, recently divorced or who have experienced damaging relationships, for example, require additional facilities allowing for the ease of access, such as; minding facilities, counselling, and mentoring alongside.


Women should be taught about business and the function of finance. Women need to be provided with the basic management skills required to make informed and sound financial decisions, enabling them to support themselves and reach their full potential. Entry barriers can be lowered with financial literacy education, opening the doors for more women to have the knowledge, skills and confidence to lead their finances and contribute to society more than ever before.


We have recently witnessed several strong inspiring women accept leadership roles and create economically sustainable businesses; Ade Hassan, owner of Nubian Skin, Bozoma Saint John as Ubers Chief Brand Officer, Tesla adding Linda Johnson Rice to their board as the second woman and first African American to hold the role, to name a few. As women occupy more senior roles they pave the way for other women to follow. When young girls see positive representations of women in senior positions, it sets a high standard for what can be achieved and a clear example for others to follow. We need to invest in our women to establish true emancipation through financial education.


References

1. Grohmann, A. (2016). The gender gap in financial literacy: income, education, and experience offer only partial explanations. Berlin.

2. Bucher-Koenen, T. and Alessie, R. and Lusardi, A. and Rooji, M. (2016). Women, confidence, and financial literacy, Online

3. Lusardi, A. and Mitchell, O. (2013). The Economic Importance of Financial Literacy: Theory and Evidence. Philadelphia. Pension Research Council Working Paper