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Understanding gender differences

Gendered social norms of what it means to be a woman or man can profoundly influence the way couples relate to each other within a relationship. 

The way money is viewed, allocated, and even communicated can be different for women and men.

The impact of this socialisation will be more obvious for some people than others and may affect hetereosexual relationships differently to homosexual relationships. 

Being aware of these differences means that other conversations may be necessary before you talk about money, or you may need to pause or stop during the discussion. 

Either way, be prepared and take your time, otherwise these issues can become real barriers and derail the conversation altogether.

Confidence with money

From a young age parenting styles can be gendered when it comes to money, which influences our confidence with money later in life. 

Research suggests that the parents of boys emphasise school grades, working, saving, and money matters much more than the parents of girls. 

Boys are also introduced to family bills much earlier.

This pattern of learning influences how achievements and positive outcomes are viewed. 

MEN
Success is seen as a rational, tangible, and measurable result - such as strength and earning capacity..

WOMEN
Success is more about personal attributes - such as empathy, kindness and personal wellbeing..

These perspectives can also influence the level of confidence men and women have with money.

MEN
Often left to take charge of the finances because women struggle with confidence in their ability.

WOMEN
Just as capable as men and aware of what's needed to get on track financially, but due to a lack confidence are quick to pass on responsibility.

Women can find money difficult to discuss because they tend to feel less self-assured in their level of knowledge and view their financial literacy (ability to understand financial language) as lower than men.

This can lead to women worrying about getting things wrong, resulting in procrastination, uncertainty and reluctance when it comes to money decisions. 

Simple decision-­making strategies can seem more difficult, so sticking to what you know seems like the safer and easier option. 

Sometimes if a decision seems too complex, it can result in avoiding it altogether, instead of risking getting it wrong. 

During money conversations it can be beneficial to check in with your partner if you think an internal struggle may be occurring. 

If it is you may need to negotiate a way through, take a break, discuss how they are feeling or ask how they would like to proceed.

Gender roles

Historically due to a world of hierarchy, colonisation, social norms and rules of conduct, men have been in a dominant financial position – determining that men should be in charge of families, run the household and manage the finances in male-­female relationships – and this still impacts today.

Because of this, it is common for men to express a strong innate need to be the ‘breadwinner’ in a relationship and take full responsibility to provide for their family. 

This comes with its own challenges – by sacrificing time to work and make the money, their opportunity to spend time with their family and children can be limited.

Women, on the other hand, can see themselves more as carers and often feel they don’t have a say in money matters if they are not contributing financially. 

Even if they do feel comfortable not contributing financially due to other household commitments – the burden can still feel unbalanced.

Even today it is still common for an unspoken understanding that men will take care of the money. 

Regardless of which gender holds this view, it is often the woman who is left feeling untrusted or incapable. 

These differing values and beliefs are important to discuss, as both genders are likely to have different perspectives.  

When these views are assumed or ignored, it limits a couple’s opportunity to be open to other ways of doing things. 

In some cases, the confidence needed to have financial conversations can be damaged.

Social norms and messaging

Growing up, boys receive messages about masculinity.

The messaging is usually about what it means to be a man and how it should be expressed.

Particularly in western culture, male characteristics are seen as being autonomous, strong, competitive and somewhat aggressive in order to win power and position.

This means showing any emotion other than anger can be viewed as a weakness; making it hard for men to express or acknowledge feelings or admit weakness or neediness.

Because men are often socialised with an individualistic focus, it can also discourage them from talking about or taking relationship directed actions.
Women have been encouraged to be timid, vulnerable, kind, avoid conflict, and give to others (accommodating their needs).

This may explain why women tend to seek cooperation and harmony in relationships and view money through a partnership lens, often prioritising collective over individual spending, typically spending more of their income on purchases for the household, or to enhance social connections and relationships.

If women portray other qualities such as assertiveness, competitiveness, or self-focus, it can be frowned upon and viewed as unfeminine.

This perspective can make it difficult for some women to express their views and self-advocate in relationship matters.

Communication

For many couples talking about money is not an easy thing to do and only occurs when financial problems arise, often leading to relationship difficulties and arguments. 

Ideally, communication around money matters needs to happen regularly and in a way that works for both people. 

By understanding the social norms and messages (above) we can understand how these impact men’s and women’s communication styles.

It’s not uncommon for a man to communicate in a way that comes across as authoritative, with the motive being to achieve actual, visible outcomes, and advance his own interests. 

This approach can lead to a perspective where family money is viewed as their own, particularly if they are the only one earning in the relationship. 

When this belief is reflected in decision-making processes, things can quickly become unbalanced – other contributions can be minimised, discussions restricted, and the health of the whole relationship can be undermined.

The way women communicate is quite different. 

Women often need more time to discuss things than men, as they seek a level of emotional understanding in their conversations.

Even when couples earn similar incomes, women enjoy consulting or informing their partner about their spending, even small purchases, as it reinforces the sense of togetherness and of being a team. 

Men are more inclined to make decisions, even about big purchases, on their own without consulting or informing their partner.

These differences can become problematic particularly when dealing with a complicated or emotionally fraught issue, as men are likely to provide a prompt, practical, unemotional response (assuming that is what their partner wants), often leaving the other person feeling talked down to and unheard.

Male:
Look what I bought us honey – It was last year’s model, so I got a really good deal on it. Isn’t it great?

Female:
Oh, I didn’t know we needed that. We never talked about it?

Male:
I didn’t realise I had to ask for your permission.

Female:
I just assumed we would make decisions about big purchases together.

This example shows some of the differences mentioned above – the man is confused about asking permission, whereas the woman is seeking togetherness.

It is possible that the only experience the man may have ever had consulting someone else on a decision was as a child. 

Therefore, when it is suggested that decisions are made together, it can feel like an attack or inference that what was done was wrong. 

The woman may be feeling hurt, angry, or betrayed by such thoughtlessness and lack of togetherness – taking it personally and unaware of the difference in focus and communication style.

By understanding the differences in communication styles between men and women, more considered conversations can be had, where each perspective can be heard and appreciated.

Trust

Trust and love are also closely linked in intimate partner relationships and when you’re in love it can be easy to trust your partner with all your money matters. 

For many people, in particular women, the offering of love and trust is an essential and defining feature of commitment in all stages of a relationship, especially in the early days. 

This makes it difficult to question a partner’s decisions, especially around finances, or enquire about unknown debt, as it may seem that love is being questioned. 

Many women also feel that talking to their partner about finances will be perceived as them not trusting the decisions their partner has made – underpinning this trust is the belief that their partner would do the right thing, and act in the family’s best interests concerning finances. 

In fact, when having conversations about money, women often filter out questions that would imply a lack of trust in their partners. 

Men also want to be trusted to make good decisions with the family’s money, especially if they view themselves as the ‘breadwinner.’

However, if financial responsibility and decision making sits predominantly with one partner, what one calls trust may be experienced as control by the other, leading to feelings of exclusion and coercion that could lead to relationship issues.

From an emotional perspective, women tend to be relatively comfortable expressing their feelings and view sharing their own shortcomings as a gesture of trust within a relationship. 

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The information, content and materials provided in our Healthy Financial Relationships Toolkit is for general informational purposes only and does not take into account the financial situation and/or particular needs of any person. Before making important financial decisions, you should seek professional advice if possible. This Toolkit contains links to other third-party websites. Such links are only for the convenience of the reader, user or browser. Good Shepherd NZ and AUT do not endorse the contents of third-party sites.

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