A recent Slate article (and a follow-up at Get Rich Slowly) raised a few very important questions: Do personal finance books for women perpetuate the idea that females are bad with money? Why is there a money management section for women at the bookstore, but not for men?
As a 40-something woman who has co-authored two personal finance books for women, these questions hit me smack in the gut. These well-written articles (by two journalists I very much admire) forced me to think long and hard about whether my focus on women’s financial literacy was actually hurting my audience.
I'd argue that the fundamentals of personal finance are identical for women and men (with the exception of age-based asset allocation guidelines, where I feel women should invest their retirement funds slightly more aggressively than men to prepare for statistically longer life spans). The reluctance of some younger women in their 20s and 30s to read female-oriented finance books is, in a sense, a victory for the equality movement.
Here’s why I think financial books are still relevant for women:
Women Are Not Worse With Money Than Men.
Poor personal finance skills are common with both sexes. Why? The financial landscape has increased geometrically in its complexity over the past 20 years while financial education hasn’t kept up. We all can use help.
Modern Life Has A Tendency To Get In The Way.
The combination of what economists call "occupational segregation" (the tendency of women to voluntarily choose to work in less remunerative fields) combined with the time commitments of child-rearing and elder care (which lead women to spend an average of 11 more years than men out of the paid workforce) suggests that learning financial basics are all the more essential for women. It also means that we need more dialogue on these areas of inequality.
The Default Language Of Finance Is Still Male.
As Nicholas Kristof pointed out, our financial system might be in a very different (and better) place had it been Lehman Sisters instead of Lehman Brothers. As someone who worked in the financial services world for 15 years, I'd argue the reason there is no "money management for men" section at Amazon is that "male" is still the default language of the industry. Personally, I'm not interested in talking about my personal finances through the lens of football or golf metaphors, nor do I want to socialize over cigars and Scotch (well, I'd drink the Scotch). Thanks to pioneers ranging from LearnVest and Women & Co. to Directions for Women and DailyWorth, there are more organizations focusing on the way in which women enjoy learning and digesting the very same personal finance information as men. As for the prevalence of dieting analogies—which is often knocked by commentators—I just think that's smart. The equation for financial and physical health is identical (inflows vs. outflows). We all eat and we all spend money, so why not compare the two? As Occam's Razor suggests: When faced with a choice, the simpler path leads to a better outcome.