I somewhat dreaded Sunday afternoons in the summertime. Sweat glued my legs to a kitchen chair suffocating underneath layers of black, white, and crimson paint. The seats matched our concrete floors—a cheap alternative to anything else.
“It makes the kitchen look like a trendy restaurant, don’t you think?” my mom asked upon finishing each new paint job. I was too young to admire her ingenuity.
We sat at our little red table meticulously cutting grocery coupons, which my mother would fold into a dusty brown accordion folder. She walked my sister and me through each aisle, teaching us how to scrimp and save and salvage. Later, she would show something else—where our local bottles and cans center was, what to do to make toothpaste last longer, or how to cook dinner in case she came home from work late. She would then retire to the office where she managed the books for my dad’s construction business.
Despite her frugality, intelligence, and work ethic, money is a matter of contention for my mother. For most women, it’s a concern, one most frequently depicted through the statistic that women earn 80 cents to a man’s dollar. The gender pay gap is wider for women in certain industries—women above the age of 45, women with disabilities, and women of color. Yet the issue is even more complicated than it initially seems. Women aren’t investing money the way men do.
As the red chair shrunk and I grew, I began to wonder why my mother’s financial clairvoyance didn’t translate to the hard numbers akin to hard sciences: both governed by controlled factors, methodological rigor, exactitude, and more often than not, men.
According to a 2016 BlackRock investment survey, 71 percent of the assets controlled by women in the U.S. are held in cash—that means it’s not invested. This has its downfalls: inflation reduces purchasing power over time and potential market gains are left untapped. Men are more likely to hold stocks than women; only 60 percent of male assets are held in cash. There are disparities in retirement savings as well; women between the ages of 55 and 65 had accumulated an average of $118,000 in retirement savings while their male counterparts had saved $162,000.
Of course, if women aren’t making as much as men, it makes sense that we’d have less to invest and save. But if we work for our money, why not let our money work for us?
No one knows this like seasoned Wall Street executive Sallie Krawcheck. After over 30 years working in the financial sector, Krawcheck created Ellevest, an investment advising platform geared towards women in an industry where 85 percent of financial advisors are men.
On Bad With Money, a podcast by Emerson alumnus Gaby Dunn, Krawcheck explained some of the reasons women are more hesitant to invest in the stock market.
“It’s a lot of the myths around money that we just won’t accept in any other aspect of our lives,” Krawcheck said. “That we just aren’t as good at math as men are, we need more hand-holding, or that we are too risk averse—that’s not true. We are simply more risk aware.”
A few months ago, I almost didn’t take a job in the business section of a newspaper because I truly believed I would be inherently bad at anything related to the financial industry. Is that true? No. Is the stock market a boys-club made inaccessible to outsiders by unnecessarily complicated bro-jargon? Maybe. As Krawcheck points out, the symbol for the market is an anatomically correct bull.
Today, there are more women working in the financial sector today than when the Ellevest CEO started out. But the number of women working on Wall Street is still minimal, and the number of women investing in the stock market reflects that. This needs to change.
I’m not saying the stock market only goes up—it doesn’t. However, by investing portions of our hard-earned money over time, women can take a step towards financial equality.
In the dated conceptualization of what American life looks like, the man of the house manages the money. However, today, more and more women are choosing to keep their finances separate from their spouses, aren’t marrying men, or aren’t getting married at all. The gender investment gap is a pertinent feminist issue—perhaps the final frontier in achieving equality.