Is Your Long-Term Security At Risk?

What’s missing from the conversation about the pay gap.

Worth It by Amanda Steinberg

Excerpt #2 from Worth It: Your Life, Your Money, Your Terms

Since founding DailyWorth in 2009, I’ve come to see that the gender divide in long-term security is even greater than I had realized. While today’s opportunities to manage and grow money are the same for both genders, the cultural mind-set is not. If you look at the research conducted by financial services companies, consulting firms, and government agencies on women and worth, you’ll see that they reach similar conclusions: men typically feel twice as confident as women making investing and financial decisions and say that they’re primarily in charge of them, while women say that between work and family, they’ve got enough on their hands managing home economics.

How can we still have these sexist attitudes? Why haven’t such tired old vestiges of the long-gone Mad Men era in American history shriveled up and died yet? Whenever I feel like my head is about to pop off with frustration from this, I have to remind myself: it’s not that long gone. After all, the women’s liberation movement only got traction after many of us were born. Think about this. The first Gen Xers (1965–1980) were newly minted babies when birth control for married couples became legal in the United States. A wife’s job was to get pregnant. Until 1974, an American woman could not get a credit card from many banks without a male co-signer. It didn’t matter if she was single or married. In the early 1970s, when the mayor of Davenport, Iowa—a woman—applied for a Bank of America credit card, she was denied. Unless her husband co-signed for it. Even up until 1981, a man could legally get a second mortgage on a house he owned with his wife—without consulting her at all.

What seems outlandish now was status quo in the US, even within our own lifetimes. Moreover, all such sexist laws and social mores are more or less based on the age-old stereotype that women are somehow “hardwired” to emote and nurture, while men are “built” to reason and provide. And women have heard variations on that theme since... forever. You don’t need to—and, honestly, aren’t able to—appreciate: the complexities of politics and voting; a college education, much less earning an advanced degree; what is required to work at high levels of business, academia, science, law, medicine, politics, and more; your role in human sexuality and reproduction, much less manage it. And on it goes. We’ve been in a process of dismantling, and fighting against, the hydra of sexism for generations in this country. But the money piece somehow has been slow to shift. Why is the financial world so slow to catch up to reality? What’s holding us up?

The Eight-Hundred-Pound Red Herring

For more than a decade, we’ve been told we are at fault. The earning and achievement gap persists, as the story goes, because educated, ambitious women “opt out” of their careers to take care of their families. Because we—and the whole world—know how impossibly perfectionistic contemporary American motherhood has become, it’s tempting to believe that argument. But is it true? It is true that nearly 70 percent of primary caregivers in the US are women, whether bus drivers or CEOs. But of those, only 16 percent have been compelled to take on less-demanding jobs in order to also provide caregiving duties (compared with only 6 percent of male caregivers). As for high-achieving women, the alleged mass exodus from office to home is starting to feel like the eight-hundred-pound red herring in the room.

A 2014 Harvard Business School (HBS) study, conducted by twenty-year veterans of research on professional women, found that out of more than twenty-five thousand HBS graduates surveyed, only 11 percent were out of the workforce to care for children full-time. The great majority of women quit as the final recourse to subtle sexist patterns in the workplace that had permanently “mommy-tracked” them. They’d been written off for using company flex time, taken out of the running for high-profile work, taken off projects they used to lead.

That kind of ham-fisted sexism plays out in no uncertain terms when women negotiate for a promotion with male bosses. A 2006 study jointly published by Harvard and Carnegie Mellon showed that evaluators penalize women far more than men for initiating salary negotiations, even for accepting company offers of higher compensation. Male reviewers’ “perceptions of niceness and demandingness explained resistance to female negotiators.” Wait, what? Yep, they’re saying that. “Look, women, don’t you dare ‘demand’ a raise—or even accept one—from the Man because he doesn’t think it’s nice. And the Man doesn’t like it when ladies don’t act nice like they’re supposed to.”

Yes, making women’s pay equal to men’s will help solve some of these problems. So will providing better support for caregivers and taking more conscious steps to mentor young women. But ultimately these problems will truly be solved when more women are no longer afraid to manage their money. Money gives you choices. More income helps point you in the direction of safety and security. But true prosperity requires that women step into the role of the money manager without apprehension, guilt, fear, or shame. It’s time. Owning your power and money means owning your worth.

In most of the discussions today about women’s advancement, money is still missing, caught between gender lines. Yet attempts to rebalance the discussion today—to propose that women can manage money and enjoy it—still tend to threaten even our unconscious beliefs about how marriage and family should operate.

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