The lack of financial literacy is perhaps one of the defining failures of the American educational system. Here is a disturbing irony: Americans represent the world’s most powerful economy, yet according to Brianna Lee Welsh, writing for medium.com, we spend two cents on financial literacy for every $100 spent on education. Welsh reports that this startling figure translates to the following set of disturbing numbers:
- 40% of adults rate their own knowledge of personal finance as extremely low and state that they need guidance.
- 60% of adults have no budget.
- 40% of adults give themselves a C, D or F in their knowledge of personal finance.
- More than a third of adults pay only the minimum on their credit card.
- The average American family’s credit card debt is $15,000.
To make matters worse, the gap between men and women when it comes to financial literacy is alarming. Consider this sobering fact: Twice as many women as men have no money in the stock market.
Furthermore, according to Merrill Lynch, 41% of women versus 28% of men say their biggest investment fear isn’t market volatility, but not knowing what they are doing.
Part of the reason for the financial literacy gap between men and women is that women have been kept out of the workforce for centuries. In fact, women were not only kept out of the workforce, they were kept out of financial decision-making and wealth management in their own homes.
Beyond the fact that there is a moral imperative to close the financial literacy gap, there is a powerful economic reason as well.
Women are on the verge of historic change when it comes financial awareness. Forty-six percent of students enrolled in MBA programs are women, according to recent data from the National Center for Education Statistics.
Women were estimated to control $22 trillion in personal wealth in 2020. According to Allianz Life Insurance Co. of North America, one of the largest insurance companies in the world, women today, as compared to past generations, “[are] more educated, earn a significantly higher income, and assume a more powerful role in the workplace.” I would add that women today have more political power than ever before.
Despite the extraordinary progress women made over the past century, there is one glaring area that continues to make women dependent on men for their financial security. You see money gives all of us, men and women, the power to control the narrative of our personal lives.
A RADICAL SHIFT
What women need today is a radical shift away from accepting the status quo of being dependent upon men for our financial awareness and toward being autonomous financial agents in the world. Where we go from here is up to us.
We live in the digital age, which means we can access financial information online, take financial courses online and access financial services on our own. More women need to become certified financial planners. Financial organizations such as the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority Inc. and the Certified Financial Planner Board of Standards need to create greater access for women.
Society absolutely must change the financial literacy paradigm by teaching, and integrating, financial awareness across the K-12 curriculum. Both men and, particularly, women need to improve their financial knowledge or face the consequences of greater inequality between rich and poor.
Cindy Couyoumjian is a certified financial adviser at Cinergy Financial.
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As our second lead editor, Cindy Hamilton covers health, fitness and other wellness topics. She is also instrumental in making sure the content on the site is clear and accurate for our readers. Cindy received a BA and an MA from NYU.