When it Comes to Money, Parents Don’t Treat Girls and Boys the Same

I have always been a very financially aware person. To be honest I wasn’t sure where that came from until I myself was teaching a financial literacy class to New York City girls and their parents. To start the day we did an exercise with the participating parents where they were prompted with questions to think about how their parents interacted with them regarding finances. As we were doing the exercise I was hit with one of my own memories. Picture this:

A father and his two-year-old daughter go shopping to buy diapers. In the aisle he explains to his daughter how he has to buy one set of diapers for her and another set for her baby sister and that it’s just too much money. He says she has to learn to use the potty so that he can spend less money on diapers. The little girl looks up at him and simply answers, “Ok daddy” and never wears a diaper again.

This cute anecdote, that my parents like to tell all the time, suddenly took on a whole new meaning. Was it this memory that has made me such a financially conscious person?

While I remember this moment vividly — or rather remember the story as it has been told — I can’t think of any other conversations that I had with my parents growing up about money expect when it came to college. Aware of the fact that college would be an enormous expense that I did not want to burden my parents with, I promised them that I would get a full ride to whatever school I went to. My parents, however, always told me not to worry and that we would figure it out, but never went into any detail.

Turns out that I’m not alone. Around the country parents and their children are not communicating about finances, particularly how college will be paid for. In fact, according to the the annual Teens & Personal Finance Survey from Junior Achievement USA and The Allstate Foundation, teens and their parents are not discussing personal finance topics like who is going to pay for college at home, and when they do sons and daughters are receiving some very different messages. 

To start, the survey found that 84 percent of teens look to their parents for information on how to manage money, but more than a third (34 percent) of parents say their family’s approach to financial matters is to not discuss finances with their children and “let kids be kids.” As a result, parents and teens are not discussing one of the family’s biggest expenses: college. Of the 800 teens that were surveyed, 48 percent of them said they think their parents will help pay for college whereas only 16 percent of parents reported planning to pay for post-secondary education for their children.

What’s even more damaging than this lack of communication is the fact that girls are often being left out of the conversation completely. According to the survey, 40 percent of teen girls say their parents don’t talk to them about money management or paying for college (34 percent). On the flip side, only 24 percent of boys report a lack of communication about money management and in terms of paying for college only 23 percent of boys say these conversations aren’t happening. Teen boys are also more likely than teen girls to report that their parents help them keep track of money (31 percent to 20 percent) or that their parents taught them how to take care of money (88 percent to 80 percent).

Clearly there are gender implications for why this disparity exists. Perhaps it’s that parents are falling prey to stereotypes that reinforce the message that boys are better with finances and girls are bad at math. Maybe it’s that parents feel girls need to be taken care of and nurtured more while boys are supposed to be independent. Either way, setting this tone can be incredibly damaging for girls especially when you fast forward to them as career women. In fact, when talking about future earning power, the survey also found that parents have different messages for their daughters versus their sons. For example, 24 percent of teen girls think they will make $15,000 or less at their first “real” job while only 16 percent of boys feel the same way. Mothers are also significantly more likely than fathers to say that their child will earn $15,000 or less (26 percent to 17 percent).  

Interestingly enough we know that these attitudes continue in the workplace with a wage gap that puts women earning 77 cents on the dollar to men even in professions where they are the majority like nursing, and fewer women exist in leadership roles with higher earning potential. With evidence that boys and girls grow up with very different messages about finances, it’s not hard to see why these stereotypes continue to play out as adults. This makes it all the more important for parents to play an active role in educating both their sons and daughters about finances at home.

It’s clear that when it comes to finances, parents are their children’s number one educators, a message that Jim Haskins, executive vice president of Allstate, and board member of Junior Achievement of Chicago, echoes:  

This year’s survey clearly shows parents play a critical role in helping their kids understand how to manage money and become financially savvy. Talking with our kids about money management at an early age prepares them to more confidently handle financial decisions in the future.

This is all the more reason for parents to prepare both sons and daughters for a financially savvy future. Perpetuating gender stereotypes in the home with children is a sure fire way to set girls up to fall prey to the wage gap as adults and feel less confident negotiating in their careers, shattering the glass ceiling, or handling their own finances. We need to kill the stereotype that girls are bad at math or with finances once and for all and it can start at home.

Photo Credit: Steven Depolo

75 comments

Jerome S
Jerome Sabout a year ago

thanks

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Jim Ven
Jim Vabout a year ago

thanks for sharing.

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Jerome S
Jerome Sabout a year ago

thanks

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Siyus Copetallus
Siyus C2 years ago

Thank you for sharing.

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Janet B.
Janet B3 years ago

Thanks

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Nimue Pendragon
Nimue Michelle P3 years ago

It seems that discrimination begins at home. Sad.

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Janis K.
Janis K3 years ago

Thanks for sharing.

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Linda McKellar
Past Member 3 years ago

When you don't have money it's hard to learn how to invest it isn't it? The majority of people are just trying to make ends meet.
This should be taught in school.

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Anne J.
Linda K3 years ago

Parents have to teach their children how to get by in life, you cannot do that without your lives being reasonably open, including money issues.

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Angie P.
Angie P3 years ago

Thanks for article. In my family I really think the boys got more. Things that were just given to them, I had to work for. My older brother got a college education, my younger brother a new car after high school. I got none of these and was on my own at age 17. Never thought about it until I just read this article.

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