Of all the certainties that exist in creation, perhaps none is more certain than this: Men and women are different. Opinions, experiences, and research all conclude that men and women are indeed different. From our biological differences, to the way we view our world, there can be no doubt that the sexes approach things from different angles.
But if men are from Mars and women are from Venus, it should come as no surprise that the relationship men and women have with money and finances is often very different as well. Add personality types, biases, the example of our parents, and suddenly the differences in perspective grows dramatically.
Biology & Nature
The research concluding men and women come at money from different perspectives is growing. Some studies suggest the difference is due to the fact that men tend to be hunters and women are often gatherers. These hardwired traits for men of competitively seeking more and making sure they have enough is just as inherent as the desire of women to hoard and find comfort in what they have. One researcher describes these differences by saying that men "go out and buy a shirt, wear it until it dies, then go out and kill another shirt. Women, in contrast, gather. They shop for this for next Christmas for their niece and for that for their son-in-law."
The nature of men will often lead them to see the world as hierarchical and competitive. As with any good competition, there's winners and losers; which means men will compete fiercely to be a winner. While women may view the world as more of a co-op with an opportunity to work together and share. Women tend to share their talents, skills, resources, and even power with one another in order to contribute positively to the co-op (i.e. society). In dealing with money, these differences often present themselves in a man buying a new car without first consulting his wife. She will wonder why he didn't include her in the decision when he viewed the task as a competition to get a good deal and provide for his family. Conversely, men will seek to combine family finances in order to consolidate perceived power and make management easier. This can often make women uncomfortable believing her husband will seek to control her and refuse to share the management of finances with her.
One of the most researched topics concerning the sexes and money is that of confidence. Research suggests men often feel far more comfortable in their decisions around money than women. One study concluded that "58% of men feel more confidence toward their money and finances, compared to 44% of women. Females also feel more anxiety toward finances (33%) than men (18%). This may account for why 28% of the male respondents reported to always negotiating their salary, compared to only 19% of women respondents."
Many women grew up watching their fathers manage the family finances, pay the bills, make large purchases, sign financial documents, and serve as the primary bread winner in their homes. Couple this vivid picture with a lack of practical financial training in school and it's easy to understand how men could be viewed as more competent and skilled with money. A Forbes article on this topic said such a conclusion is “unfounded,” and stated that “women's ability to make good decisions based on both fact and intuition is actually quite good.”
Priorities and Concerns
These differences also account for the different financial priorities of men and women. Whereas men are often more interested in investing and entrepreneurship, women lean towards the themes of savings and frugality. Knowing this, it’s no surprise that men tend to spend their excess cash on technology and electronics, while women prefer travel. The hunter in men will drive them to “live for today” because “you can’t take it with you when you die.” But the gatherer in women will seek stability and security through reducing debt, living frugally, saving, and learning more about modern financial trends such as F.I.R.E.
Aside from different priorities, even the financial concerns of men and women differ. Men don’t often voice financial concerns, but when they do, they revolve around providing for their family (a house, food, clothing, etc.). This is often considered a short-term (but necessary) goal. Women, however, living longer on average than men, look down the road into the future and focus their concerns on having enough money to provide basic needs and healthcare costs for many years. This may contribute to statistics showing more women than men starting Social Security benefits at age 62. Again, the hunter and gatherer motifs are in view even as the bills are being paid.
Many things about men and women are clear as mud. What is crystal clear is that biology and nature, combined with upbringing and education (or lack thereof), contribute to many of the differences between men and women concerning money. However, it must be noted that these are not insurmountable obstacles. We often overcome our own nature and our childhood to achieve great accomplishments. That we can do the same concerning our abilities with money is certainly true. That we should strive to overcome our weaknesses in the area of finances, to become more skilled each day, and to pass on valuable lessons to the next generation, is a critical need.
Exercise: How can men and women move towards the middle and find common ground in the way they view money and the resources they have been entrusted with? Try this simple exercise.
First: Each week, do something that doesn’t come naturally; if you’re a spender, save a little. If you’re a hoarder, be generous to someone else. This will move you and your partner closer to the middle and help you step out of your comfort zone.
Second: Every time you do something that doesn’t come naturally, write down how it makes you feel, or discuss it with your partner.
Third: Treat yourself for trying something new and making some progress.