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We're teaching Australian girls the wrong money lessons

·6-min read
Girl on swing looking at bird
What messages are we sending to young girls? Image: Getty

There’s a famous finding from a 2016 study of pocket money in Australia: girls earn $9.60 a week, while boys earn $13.

The Heritage Bank study didn’t look into the reasons why, but another study from the Australian Institute of Family Studies found that it’s not that girls aren’t doing less housework or jobs.

In fact, they’re doing more: Australian girls aged 10 and 11 spent on average an extra 10 minutes a day on chores and housework than boys in 2012.

It’s just one of the unconscious lessons we teach young kids about money, and it’s having long-term consequences.

Shaky foundations

Kids' financial literacy is broadly even, but the way girls and boys relate to money isn't. Image: Getty
Kids' financial literacy is broadly even, but the way girls and boys relate to money isn't. Image: Getty

There is no gap in the overall attainment of financial literacy between 15 year old boys and girls, a study from the Australian Council for Educational Research (ACER) released in July last year found.

But there were gender differences in attitudes to money. Australian boys were more likely to enjoy talking about money, while girls believed money matters weren’t relevant to them at the time of the survey.

Additionally, girls reported lower exposure to financial education both in and out of school, compared to boys, who said they got information from friends, the media, and school.

Girls are also growing up disadvantaged as they are statistically less involved in their family’s financial decisions, a recent Melbourne Institute study found.

“Kids are always observing us. It doesn’t matter how much we talk about how things should be done, ultimately they replicate the behaviour that they’re observing from us quite often,” finance expert and founder of Women With Cents Natasha Janssens told Yahoo Finance.

“So if there is that theme that dad is looking after the bills and dad knows how to fix the car and fix the lawnmower… and mum is more about gathering people together and knowing how to cook a fantastic meal, then that’s typically what kids will do.”

She believes the first and most important step is for Australia’s parents to have a good look at their own relationship with money, both as individuals and as couples and parents.

Then, it’s about having conversations about money with their children.

“[Start] to encourage and foster their curiosity and their entrepreneurial spirit in terms of the ways they can make money,” Janssens said.

“Rather than teaching girls to ask mum for pocket money, to instead go, ‘Okay, what’s something that you want to do? How else can you earn that?’

“We know that for girls we often keep passing on through generations very outdated habits and we need to be able to stand on our own two feet, regardless of whether we want to be a stay-at-home mum, or not.”

Compounding challenges

Girls are marketed to more than ever. Image: Getty
Girls are marketed to more than ever. Image: Getty

Janssens also believes the school system, and parents, could be doing more to unpick the ingrained gender lessons around how we choose to spend our money.

She worries that parents of girls have an added hurdle when it comes to financial literacy.

“[Young girls] have never been marketed to more. If we look at the way our parents grew up and the way I grew up – today, they put on Youtube, ABC Kids, just an educational game on the phone and ads will crop up,” she said.

Across both genders, they’re teaching kids to be “want, want, want”, but for girls, that “want” is built into a bigger discussion than just a toy or a snack.

Rather, on Instagram and TikTok, girls are being bombarded with messages around appearance.

“It doesn’t matter what we’re teaching them [about values and money] at home, they’re observing their friends being taught different things and being encouraged to spend money on their appearance. And I’d just caution parents that this is now the messaging that we’re setting them up for in the future,” she said.

“That’s when a lot of money will be directed towards keeping up appearance, and making us feel like we are worthy and we are good enough.”

What happens in adulthood?

Woman inserts a coin into a piggy bank, toned image
What happens to us as adults? Image: Getty

The financial literacy gap in children may have disappeared, but for adult women, it’s still a pressing problem.

The latest Household, Income and Labour Dynamics in Australia (HILDA) Survey found that there is widespread financial illiteracy across Australia – but it’s especially bad among young Australians.

Concerningly, only 48 per cent of women show an understanding of at least three basic financial literacy concepts, compared to 63 per cent of men.

“Such widespread financial illiteracy is of increasing concern within the context of highly complex financial markets, high levels of personal and household indebtedness and easy access to credit opportunities,” Professor Alison Preston from the University of Western Australia business school said in March 2020.

With COVID-19 and its associated financial challenges still a problem, this problem isn’t going away.

The latest Financy women’s index from December 2020 found that women remain in more financially insecure positions than men, despite improvements in the unemployment rate.

And more than one-in-five female employees reported severe or moderate levels of financial stress in 2020, AMP’s 2020 Financial Wellness Report found. That’s nearly three times the number of men reporting the same stress.

However, that’s not to say the situation is all bad. After all, the literacy gap has shrunk for children.

Téa Angelos, the founder of Smart Women Society and an financial empowerment advocate, believes schools are doing a lot more now to teach children financial literacy.

And while she thinks connecting financial literacy with real-life concepts for students, like paying for their year 10 formal dress is the next step, a lot more of financial empowerment comes down to establishing good money mindsets early.

“Our money mindset and our beliefs and our attitudes towards money as an adult is really ultimately shaped by how we grew up around money, our experience around it growing up, what we learnt at school and witnessing our parents and other people interact with money,” she said.

“How we grow up around money [can] really form limiting beliefs around money. It is hard to shift that mindset from money is hard to manage and stressful, to money is a tool to use to better my future.”

But teaching girls to do so is crucial, she said.

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