The persistence of jokes about women and their affinity for shopping, overuse of credit cards, and general incompetency with money shows that some people still have a ways to go when it comes to believing, deep down, that women are equally competent in the realm of finance. Here are some of the most commonly perpetuated myths about women and money -- and the cold hard facts.
Myth 1: Women aren't as good at investing as men.
Fact: Research suggests that while, in the majority of families, men make the investment decisions, they may want to consider inviting their wives' opinions. According to one study, women typically know less outright about investing but make fewer mistakes when they do invest. Men tend to be more enthusiastic investors, but are much more likely to invest without careful research -- perhaps the reason for making mistakes such as holding onto a stock too long.
Myth 2: Women are bigger spenders than men.
Fact: The percentage of compulsive shoppers amongst men is the same as for women -- under 6% -- and yet, talk about a shopaholic, and one would most likely picture a woman. In truth, the biggest spenders are single men, who outspend their female counterparts on cars, alcoholic beverages, eating out, tobacco, and A/V equipment. In addition, these fun-loving guys carry slightly more median credit card debt on a yearly basis than their female friends.
Myth 3: The gap between men's and women's salaries isn't a big deal.
Fact: In 2007, women's salaries were 77% of men's, according to the Census Bureau. While that's a big jump up from the 65% they made in 1985, it's still a major discrepancy -- one that allows men much more buying power than women. (Frankly, being able to buy 77% of a new car doesn't feel a lot better than affording 65% of it.)
Myth 4: Married women don't have to worry as much about financial health; they can depend on their husbands.
Fact: A huge number of women will end up handling their finances alone at some point in their lives, given factors such as women's longer life spans, later age at marrying, and the divorce rate. Yet, despite the statistics, married women often defer to their husbands in matters that relate to long-term finances -- choosing instead to take on shorter-term tasks like paying the bills. This means, should they become widowed or divorced, there will be a whole lot of catch-up to do just at the time when they may be most vulnerable.
Myth 5: Today's women will fare better in retirement than in past generations.
Fact: Women are twice as likely as men to be impoverished in old age as men. That's a statistic unlikely to change much, according to prognosticators, despite women's increasing participation in the workforce and the slow shrinking of the salary gap between men and women. Why? Because women are still much more likely than men to have career interruptions like time off for childbirth or child-rearing, are more likely to choose occupations that are traditionally low-paying, and are still typically paid much less on the dollar than men.
These days, no one in Hollywood is going to have his reputation tarnished by a few wisecracks about women and their shopping habits. But each of us does need to look at our deepest assumptions about women and their financial acumen. Otherwise, our daughters and granddaughters will inherit a legacy of financial insecurity, rather than a wealth of confidence.
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This article was originally published in May 2007. It has been updated. The Fool has a disclosure policy.