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Making Financial Stereotypes a Relic of the Past: Women Have Plenty of Confidence About Managing Money

Women are stereotyped as lacking the confidence to manage money. But the leader of the retail investments business at Northwestern Mutual wants to underscore that the actual evidence suggests something totally different.

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This Women’s History Month, I have seen so many inspiring examples of women who are rising to the challenges of our moment and making a true difference in the world around us. I continue to be amazed by the resilience and grit of women.

Yet, while there are so many amazing stories about the impact women are having every day, I want to call out a pervasive stereotype that I believe holds women back—and I want to raise this topic so that we can collectively change the narrative.

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Simply, women are stereotyped as lacking the confidence to manage money. But as the leader of the retail investments business at Northwestern Mutual, I want to underscore that the actual evidence suggests something totally different—reality has moved far beyond this outdated notion.

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It is difficult to pin down exactly where this stereotype comes from, but I think most women have felt it. We’ve been taught that a woman’s role is to take care of the house and children, while men serve as breadwinners and manage the family’s money. A 2018 linguistic analysis of about 300 finance articles showed that 65 percent of those aimed at women described them as ”splurgers,’’ whose excessive spending needed to be reined in. Men, by contrast, were portrayed as sober and savvy when it comes to money. Where a woman might “splurge” on an expensive pair of shoes, a man might “invest” in a new suit. It’s simply not equitable—and most importantly, it’s not accurate.

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I agree that women have a different style when it comes to making financial decisions. We tend to deliberate further and ask more questions than men. We rely more on analysis and less on instinct. All of that may create the false impression that we lack confidence. Yet, as a woman in financial services, I see daily how women confidently (and competently) approach their finances.

Research we conducted at Northwestern Mutual emphasized this point. A recent study of women in the high net worth (HNW) category, which we define as those with at least $2 million in investable assets, found that these women are very comfortable with their money and are making wise choices to protect and grow their wealth.

Among our findings:

  • Almost 9 out of 10 of these women (87 percent) feel confident in their current financial situations.
  • Only 20 percent of these women say they have blind spots in their financial and retirement plans. Interestingly, 33 percent of men say they have blind spots.
  • The generational shift is underway: Nearly three-quarters of women under the age of 55 have primary responsibility for household decisions compared with only 35 percent of women ages 55 to 70.
  • 84 percent of HNW women using a financial advisor are extremely confident or very confident in their ability to make successful wealth management decisions.
  • 73 percent of women under the age of 55 have primary responsibility for household decisions compared with only 35 percent of women ages 55 to 70. This suggests to me that a generational shift is taking place, and it is not likely to be reversed.

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The data is overwhelmingly clear: Women are successfully managing money today and doing it with confidence. With financial security comes independence and the ability to make choices, and this is an important aspect of advancing women overall.

We need to change our stereotypes about women and money—and to ensure we lift up our daughters, sisters, friends and colleagues, in partnership with men who are allies—to make financial confidence and success contagious. By working together and bringing more people along, we help drive social change that advances women, creates a better society and sends an outdated view of women and money to the history books.

Aditi Javeri Gokhale is the Chief Commercial Officer and President of Investment Products and Services at Northwestern Mutual.

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