September 11, 2006
What? Me worry?
By Jane Glenn Haas
“It's not natural,” said Mrs. A., a family friend. “Women don't need to make money. It gives them ideas.”
Well, she was right. The first idea I had was if I didn't go to work, we would never be able to afford college for our children. The second idea was that I could manage the family finances, which was better than letting him fritter them away. Another idea was how I ended up in
But the biggest idea – the one I still have 30 years later – is the tremendous fear of losing it all.
So I wasn't surprised when Allianz Life Insurance Co. surveyed 1,925 women and discovered almost half of them worry about becoming a “bag lady” picking through Dumpsters to find food and clothing.
Today, almost two-thirds of women are in the work force, the survey said. More than 2 million women earn over $100,000 a year. By 2010, women are on track to control 60 percent of the
“The bag-lady syndrome is common among women in our generation,” says Suzanne Braun Levine.
We never were taught anything about money and investing, she says, maintaining that women 50 and older are at a real disadvantage today.
“My daughter had a financial literacy course in high school but I never did,” Levine says.
A former editor of Ms. magazine, Levine is author of “The Woman's Guide to Second Adulthood: Inventing the Rest of Our Lives.”
She writes about what she calls the “big-ticket stress items” for women: like health and divorce, workplace issues, problems with adult children and whether or not we'll have enough money to buy groceries when we're 85.
The problem, Levine says, is we've been raised to believe money is beyond our ken. Instead, we're waiting for the “white knight,” that terrific guy who's going to ride over the hill and erase all those fuzzy numbers that clutter up our heads.
When no knight appears, we're left with no confidence in our own abilities to navigate financial seas.
“We have math anxiety,” Levine says. “Even if we were good in math in high school, we believed it was an accident. “
Levine lays the “bag lady” fear on women who were workplace pioneers, the aging boomer crowd. “Almost every woman I have ever talked to over 50 has some form of financial fears,” she says. Even Oprah admits to keeping $2 million stashed away in case of emergency, she says.
There's an old saying that from 14 to 40, a woman needs good looks; from 40 to 60, she needs personality; after 60, she needs cash.
“Every woman thinks it's her secret,” Levine writes. “And it paralyzes us. It keeps us in crappy jobs, crappy marriages. Doing stuff we hate.”
Men, on the other hand, told researchers they're significantly more confident about handling money – even if they don't handle it well.
Money is becoming the major cause of disharmony in marriage today, Allianz surveyors said. Women reported money is almost 20 times more likely than sex to be the biggest source of conflict with their husbands. The fear: No savings equals no financial security.
Hopefully, financial literacy classes will change the future for our daughters. Midlife women, on the other hand, have to educate themselves.
We earn the bucks. We owe ourselves peace of mind.