Women: Will success leave you lonely?
A new survey says 42% of women think female financial independence alienates men AND women. Why are we still having this conversation?
More than half the women in the United States fear becoming destitute, according to the "Women, Money & Power 2013" study from Allianz Life Insurance Company of North America.
That worry is not limited to those with modest salaries: One-third of women earning $200,000 or more still worried about winding up broke and alone.
But women are socialized to be nice, not showoff-y. Having a tonier job title or a higher salary than your friends might hurt someone's feelings.
Those numbers got a lot of attention from national media and the personal finance blogosphere. But some of the other data disturbed me more.
More than 90% of the 2,213 women surveyed believe they should be "significantly more involved in financial planning" than women have in the past. Yet 42% believe that financially independent females are "intimidating to men and often end up alone," and 31% believe they are "hard to relate to and often don't have many friends."
It's 2013. Why are we still having this conversation?
The survey came out not long after the stir caused by Facebook chief operating officer Sheryl Sandberg's book "Lean In," which called for women to step up to leadership positions, and after Yahoo chief executive officer Marissa Mayer decreed an end to telecommuting.
Some admired the two executives for their take-charge attitudes and their willingness to make tough decisions, while others criticized what they saw as family-unfriendly policies. The two were also subject to personal attacks, e.g., that they lacked "positive feminine attributes" (huh?) or that they were "neglecting" their children.
In other words: They're intimidating to men, they're hard to get along with, and they probably don't have many friends.
Happily ever after
It's true some super-driven women (and men!) are hard to like. But it's also true that existing friendships change as women (and men) grow in their careers.
Some are too busy to socialize as frequently, or develop a taste for interests their friends can't afford. Both sexes might have to spend more time at company functions and/or cultivating connections.
And making more money than a potential husband? Deadly. Or so we've been told -- and we often play along, according to Annette Lieberman and Vicki Lindner, co-authors of "Unbalanced Accounts: How Women Can Overcome Their Fear of Money."
Women are still "collaborating with the myth that is the basis for the economic lives of middle-class women: that if they remain ladylike and needy, someone will take care of them," they write.
"Because they associate financial rescue, or living happily ever after, with satisfaction of other emotional needs, they are afraid that abandoning the rescue fantasy also means abandoning the possibility of love."
Sure, some men are threatened by a woman with a higher salary. But I'd bet my own paycheck that plenty of guys would be delighted to marry women who pull their own weight in the relationship.
Aimee Johnson, women's program manager for Allianz, notes that a 2006 survey of men asked them whether financially independent women were "less sexy." A majority (78%) disagreed.
"Women feel this way, but men don't," Johnson says.
Significantly more involved
Another persistent stereotype is that women are as bad at money management as they are at math. A fast-growing subset of the financial services industry capitalizes (so to speak) on that perception, according to Helaine Olen's "Pound Foolish: Exposing the Dark Side of the Personal Finance Industry."
Women's alleged financial incompetence "is used to justify everything from discouraging women from handling their own investments to rationalizing their lack of funds. And it allows more than a few advisers to suggest that women are too in touch with their feelings to manage money effectively," the author says.
Obviously a lot of women use financial service companies to handle their money. (So do a lot of men.) But they shouldn't blindly hand over our funds and they shouldn't allow themselves to be patronized.
"Being talked to like an infant" was one of the gripes from a Boston Consulting Group study in 2009, in which 70% of women noted "subpar" treatment at financial service companies, Olen says. And a paper from the National Bureau of Economic Research in 2012 noted that, among other things, women are considerably less likely "to be asked about their work and financial situations than men." (How can an adviser actually advise someone about whom he knows nothing?)
So yes, you do need to be "significantly more involved in financial planning." Kimberly Foss, founder of Empyrion Wealth Management, has this advice for women: When it comes to cash, quit caring what other people think.
"Being different and making a difference means letting go of needing to be liked and needing to be universally known as 'a nice person'," Foss says.
Easier said than done, obviously. Thus I have two suggestions of my own:
Educate yourself. Read books such as Kate Levinson's "Emotional Currency: A Woman's Guide to Building a Healthy Relationship With Money," or MSN Money columnist Liz Weston's "The 10 Commandments of Money: Survive and Thrive in the New Economy." See a therapist if you can't figure out what's driving your own financial fears.
Break the cycle. Observe the ways that those persistent social mores affect your daughter(s) or any other young women you know. Otherwise you'll reinforce the idea that women are just naturally bad with money but that we shouldn't worry our pretty little heads since one day our husbands will take care of things.
In other words, we'll be telling them that financial responsibility is for other people. That is, it's for men. Or for women who don't mind ending up as loveless spinsters.
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