As women turn fifty, it is easy to feel anxious about the many challenges we face, not least the practicalities that have to do with money. Women earn on average 23% less than men, meaning that we make some $500,000 less over the course of a lifetime. We are more likely than men to work part time (with no benefits or retirement plans); more likely to interrupt our careers to serve as caretakers. Many of us too, were raised without the basic financial training enjoyed by our brothers and male cousins, leading to a muffled sense of incompetence, a “learned helplessness,” that persists into our later years.
“I grew up thinking that finance and money belonged to a secret society that only males were allowed into,” writes the psychotherapist, Kate Levinson.
It’s hardly surprising that when it comes to money, many of us prefer to duck the conversation altogether. We tell ourselves it’s simply not polite to mention it. We hide out in “lies, secrets and silence.” We keep our worries and our triumphs, our moments of ease and generosity, our nuggets of hard-won wisdom to ourselves.
Such behavior is very much worth changing.
Over the last ten years, I have interviewed more than fifty women about their relationship to money. Again and again, I have heard someone push past tears and confusion to clarify the role of money in her life. I have watched her searching, stumbling, gradually finding words, to arrive at a place of confidence and ease. Such story-telling in and of itself can be tremendously sustaining. But as those stories are carried out into the world — to schools and churches, libraries, community centers, even credit unions — their power continues to grow.
Women are more generous than men; we give away 3.5% of our income as compared to men’s 1.8%. We make some 80% of consumer decisions. Our choices have an authority that we are only just beginning to acknowledge. For women to gather together and to share their money stories can be a transformative act, energizing and inspiring. Joining a group can itself create a surprising surge in happiness: as much as doubling our income.
If it is true that most women become increasingly happy after the age of 55, with the peak of happiness towards the very end of life, then it makes sense to multiply such happiness,
listening to each other, telling stories — and that includes our stories about money.