Raising Financially Fit Girls

A new report on the gender wage gap is old news. The results have been the same for years and years: Women, on average, are earning about 20% less than men for doing comparable work. We’ve heard all sorts of reasons for this inequality. What is often overlooked, however, is what happens during childhood. How we as parents treat our girls vs. our boys when it comes to all matters financial.

A 2014 survey by T. Rowe Price is just the latest to report that young girls tend to be treated differently than boys — more often than we’d like to think. This particular survey interviewed boys and girls ages 8 to 14. Kids this age are immensely affected by how we as parents act toward them and the world. It’s a critical time for firming up attitudes about money.

Among the survey findings:

  • Fewer girls say their parents talk to them about money (50% vs. 58% for boys)
  • Fewer girls say they’re “extremely smart” about money (38% vs. 45% for boys)
  • In single child families, 69% of girl parents say their child understands the value of a dollar — vs. 80% for boy parents.
  • Twice as many boys have access to credit cards (12% vs. 6%)
  • Fewer girls say their parents are saving for their education (32% vs. 53%)

With results like these, it’s no surprise most women have a hard time negotiating a higher starting salary for themselves – including Sheryl Sandberg, COO of Facebook and author of LEAN IN! Or that many women depend on their husbands to manage the family finances. Or even why just 14% of girls entering college want to major in math/science vs. 39% for boys.

What Can Be Done

As parents, we worry about whether our girls have a positive body image, are getting enough exercise or gaining confidence in math and science. It’s just as important for us to focus on getting our daughters financially fit.

How do we do that? Start early.

Send the right “money messages.” It’s important to send the same money messages to girls as to boys. Money messages are ways to increase kids’ ability to think positively and proactively about money, as they age. Regardless of whether our daughters will grow up to be bankers, ballerinas or stay-home moms, they’ll then be financially fit and ready to make the most of who they are and what they have.

Seek out role models for your daughter. Do you have a friend who’s a high-level woman executive, a real estate developer, a chief scientist? Invite her to dinner or go on a hike with her and your daughter. Talk about work. Draw your daughter into the conversation.

Let your daughter know about the pay gap between men and women. The more girls know about the pay gap, the more they’re likely to overcome it as working women. The 2015 Report on the Gender Pay Gap by the American Association of University Women is a really great read.