Girl Math and Boomer Insights

In February 2024, ASIC published their insight into the financial concerns of Gen Z women with the aim of addressing harmful stereotypes. 

 

As a Gen Z woman, I was particularly interested in the report.

 

Before I break it down, it’s important to understand that the ASIC Moneysmart study highlights a significant financial stress gap between young Australian women and men. It reveals that Gen Z women are more likely to experience severe stress about the cost of living and feel overwhelmed by finances compared to their male counterparts. The study also notes a gender disparity in financial behaviour, such as savings, investment, and the use of buy-now-pay-later services. Acting Senior Executive Leader of Corporate Finance at ASIC, Amanda Zeller, emphasises the need to address stereotypes and empower young women with financial literacy to ensure their financial security. 

Moneysmart offers resources and tips for financial management, aiming to change the narrative around young women and money. For more details, you can visit the full article on ASIC’s website here

 

The article made me laugh out loud (in the office – embarrassing!) because:

  1. Financial literacy is not, and was not the problem, that ASIC grapples with in their explanation of the data. 
  2. ASIC has fundamentally misunderstood girl math and is doing that boomer thing of co-opting a phrase they don’t understand to prove that Gen Z is stupid. I’m sure you all know that girl math only exists because women are made to defend their financial decisions in a way that men aren’t: men simply aren’t burdened with the assumption that they are materialistic, frivolous and careless with their money (so they don’t need to justify their purchases like women do). So, for ASIC to say that this phenomenon of women sharing the way they rationalise spending as evidence of a shortcoming of women (rather than a societal problem that requires women to prove their intelligence in a way that isn’t required of men) shows a lack of critical thinking and perpetuates the stereotypes the article aspires to disprove. 
  3. ASIC’s conclusions ignore that their own research shows that women spend more time tracking spending than men. Women also check their bank accounts more frequently than men do, which one could argue suggests that they are thinking about, and actively considering their finances.
  4. At the risk of triggering the finance bros, we need to acknowledge that crypto sucked in more men than women (especially in this age group). Unfortunately, the Moneysmart research doesn’t seem to have considered the types of investments or research that young people are doing – and that is probably a significant weakness in ASIC’s approach. Honestly, you’d probably close that gap a bit if you take into account the type of investing done (and exclude the bad ‘investments’ a lot of men embrace) and the sources of information that young men turn to (like social media trends). ASIC’s article doesn’t say what adjustments they have made to the data, so maybe they have considered types of investments (but I doubt it, given the general vibe of the report).
  5. Let’s not forget the impact of the gender pay gap. Taylor Swift may have changed a lot of beliefs about what women can accomplish, but that hasn’t affected anything at a local level. The gender pay gap for this generation is not only enduring but increasing – male new grads earn significantly more than female new grads. For a generation that currently makes up a big portion of the new grad population, this fact seems pretty relevant to this discussion. Maybe this is a hot take, but perhaps the differences in personal savings and financial stress are impacted by income regardless of personal habits. Blaming women, crediting girl math and citing poor financial literacy is truly delulu. 
  6. This blind spot is compounded by their somewhat patronising final line that we “instead of stereotyping, …encourage women to make every dollar count”. Women statistically start with fewer dollars. This is a systemic issue. ASIC’s research doesn’t really suggest that women aren’t making every dollar count, just that they’re more stressed and have less savings than men. Personal decisions only make so much difference, particularly when cost-of-living stress is increasing. Given these circumstances, would being more financially literate actually change the reality of financial stress?
  7. One last point, and it’s a minor one. ASIC states that financial literacy isn’t an inherent skill, but a learned skill – not a bad thing to remind people! However, in implying that women require special help that men don’t, ASIC trips backwards into perpetuating the harmful stereotypes that their article claims to “tackle”. Hypocrisy aside, this conclusion simply fails to acknowledge why men have better access to financial education or resources (and money to save and invest). It may not have been ASIC’s intent, but the conclusions and the framing might lead readers to reasonably assume that men are just smarter, so they learn better and faster than women.  

 

I know it’s tempting to file this report in the TLDR bucket, but financial capability is something that we need to address. Improving financial literacy and reducing anxiety is a critical responsibility that is increasingly being assumed by financial planners. Even without the push of the Code and Standards, our reviews have revealed some impressive work being done by advisers at the coal face to improve gender outcomes. Unfortunately, rather than doing anything meaningful to educate service providers about systemic factors and gender differences in financial outcomes and perceptions, ASIC seems to play into stereotypes and completely misses the point.