Super Informed Radio episode #10: The ‘great’ budgeting gender divide
|Disclaimer: What you're about to read is of a general nature and doesn't take into account your personal financial situation, needs or objectives. We recommend you seek financial advice before making any decisions about your super and consider the relevant UniSuper product disclosure statement.
Lyndon: Well, hello and welcome to another episode of Super Informed Radio, our official UniSuper Podcast which, I might add, turns one this episode. My name is Lyndon.
Marta: I'm Marta.
Rob: And I'm Rob. Happy birthday to us.
Lyndon: Happy birthday to us. It has been an interesting year, it's been a good year.
Marta: It's been a wild ride.
Lyndon: It has. And we are very thankful to you, our loyal listeners for tuning in and offering suggestions and feedback, it's been really great.
Marta: While we're here, if you are subscribing to us through any of the podcast apps, could you please, please, please give us a like and a rating as it helps other people find our podcast, and it makes us feel good too.
Lyndon: So what have we got coming up today, Marta?
Marta: Well, I came across some research a couple of weeks ago around the fact that young women tend to be bad at budgeting. And as a young woman myself I was rather offended, but as I read on, it posed some interesting thoughts and suggestions into my head. So, I did a bit of digging and it turns out that a few of our members have driven this research. So, I thought we could bring in James Arvanitakis and Lauren Stanley from Western Sydney Uni to chat to us about their research and what they found, and what some next steps are.
Lyndon: I should just clarify, Marta, it wasn't that women are bad at budgeting, was it? It was just that their strengths in budgeting are somewhat different.
Marta: Yeah. So, as we'll shortly hear, their research found that young women tend to be more confident when it comes to shorter-term budgeting, so planning for a holiday or things like that, but were a little bit more overwhelmed when it came to longer-term things like investing or super.
Rob: So let's have a listen to what James and Lauren have to say about their research.
Marta: So, James and Lauren, thanks for joining us in our studio, or remotely as it were. Could you tell us… maybe Lauren, could you tell us a little bit about the survey you guys decided to conduct, and what prompted or what drove it?
Lauren: So basically last year I became involved with the New South Wales Council of Social Service, and they run a young women’s advisory roundtable, and they're also running or currently running a campaign called A New Year for Women, which started highlighting really damning statistics around women and their financial literacy and their financial situation across... mostly in New South Wales, but also across Australia.
So, off the back of that, I was also running the Women's Collective at Western Sydney University on the Parramatta Campus. So we decided to run a forum talking about financial literacy for women and for young women, just to highlight those and get experts together to try and start nutting out why this is happening and what we can start to do to look at it.
So from that, James was actually on our panel, and then this piece of research started to drop out of the back of that.
Lyndon: So, when we talk about financial literacy, Lauren, it sort of sounds like a simple enough concept, you know, being ‘financially literate’, but it sort of covers a bit more than that really, doesn't it? What exactly is meant by financial literacy?
Lauren: When we look at financial literacy, I think it's not just talking about being literate with numbers and knowing... or not just about knowing about interest and things like that, but it's also being able to apply it to your everyday life, and to be able to make sure that it's working in your life as well. So it's not just about a mathematical approach, it's about knowing what to use and when and what institutions to engage with.
James: So I think the other thing here is that it does give... it's about people having a sense of control over their finances, so they can make informed decisions, they can have... they can be... they can deal with unexpected sort of expenses. You know, one of the ways to think about it is if someone gets an unexpected $2,000 bill, do they know what to do, how they can respond to that? So, it's being prepared for the unexpected. But like I said, it's more of... best to think about it, it's not like just the theoretical knowledge, but more of as Lauren said, sort of the everyday life knowledge about dealing with money and planning for your future as well as unexpected events.
Marta: Were there any sort of really interesting or unexpected findings that have come out of your work so far?
James: Look, I think...I mean, a little bit about the survey, I suppose that as Lauren said that the survey came out of the workshop of the forum that she organised, and you know, my interest in this originally was merely an interest of social justice. I mean, some of the statistics about how many women... how much... the rate of homelessness for old women, and the low levels of sort of superannuation that women have, was really, for me, really confronting. I didn't know, and I... you know, I consider myself... I'm a professor of sociology so I consider myself a pretty informed guy, but the fact that I didn't know this really shocked me.
And so we wanted to do a survey that just began to gauge the level of engagement with finance for young women was the main focus of the survey, and it is only stage one, and we did focus on young women, and we compared that to some of the international research that's done. And I suppose the thing that's most surprising is just how much this research or our findings reflect some of the international comparisons, say if we compare to parts of Europe or to the United States, just how similar they are in their outcomes, which is that, you know, women have... you know, we didn't do the relative comparison but in comparison to international studies, that the levels of literacy amongst financial women... of financial literacy amongst young women are very low.
Lauren: I was just going to add that I think that it was also very surprising to me, even though I was working in the space around how women experience the world, I found it still really surprising how much gender roles and how women are treated in society, and how that actually reflects in their finances and their attitude to finances. I think it's a really understated part of this whole issue around financial literacy.
James: So we do know that...you know, we do know from other research done around, especially about education, that the young... you know, that there's unconscious biases. Even teachers and parents they tend to direct young girls away from learning about the STEM subjects, you know, including mathematics. And so it creates from a very young age, as young as four, five or six, young girls are being discouraged to learn about, you know, mathematics and sort of more of the hard sciences. And it's interesting how, you know, in the studies this was... you know, even though you got people undertaking responses to the survey wouldn't have known... you know, probably wouldn't have researched this area, they talked about or they indicated that they were, you know, directed away from learning about finance from their families and from their teachers.
Marta: That's really fascinating and kind of annoying at the same time. But I'm gonna chime in for our listeners here. Actually most of... because considering most of our members... or a smidge over half of our members are women, and some of our listeners may feel a little bit outraged to say that generally speaking they may not know more about... they may not know about their finances as much as men, did your studies at this stage canvass men at all, or sort of try and draw a comparison between the genders?
James: Look we didn't... at this stage we didn't interview males, we will do that in the next phase of the subject. It's interesting to understand sort of the relationship that people have with money more broadly. But we did draw... I suppose the comparison that we drew with men was more from the other international comparisons that we undertook. So we did sort of two levels of comparison, one was how did the Australian women who answered the survey compare to sort of the international counterparts, but then also how did that compare to sort of the international males. So the next stage of the subject we'll definitely canvass the attitude and confidence and knowledge of men.
Rob: One of the findings was that women were actually confident when it comes to short-term budgeting, not so confident with the long-term budgeting. Do you put that down simply to financial literacy?
James: Yeah, I think so. I mean, I suppose in some ways a short-term saving is obviously the easiest or the most basic way of engaging with money, sort of saying, "Okay, well, I'm gonna go on a holiday next year, so I need to save $5,000 for that, and off I go”. I suppose financial literacy, when we start talking about that sense of control for both now and into the future, I suppose into the future, into the longer term future where we see that breakdown of literacy happening.
And that's, I suppose, because it is a bit more complicated. You know, engaging with things like compound interest or, you know, like talking about things like... you talk about mutual funds and you talk about balance trust versus more aggressive funds or, you know, family superannuation, we do see that because it does require a lot more engagement, a lot more I suppose literacy generally about mathematics, that is I think one of the reasons why it does fall apart or, you know, it does collapse when you look at longer-term planning.
Lauren: I think longer-term planning also isn't just necessarily budgeting, it's also around investment and those sort of things, which as James was saying, is more complex. And when you also... when we looked at the survey and when we looked at other surveys, we found that there's also a measure of anxiety when it comes to actually dealing with money. And I think when you're looking at short-term budgeting, it's quite simple. But then when starting to make it more complex, the levels of anxiety get higher. And in these other surveys they also found that people... and especially women, their reaction to being anxious or around dealing with these more complex issues was that they just didn't think about it, or they tried not to think about it.
Lyndon: I know here at UniSuper we've got a number of resources that all of our members, but particularly relevant for women in this context in terms of financial literacy, and we'll mention some of those a little bit later on. But Lauren and James, are there any things that you would recommend that women could do sort of now to improve their financial literacy?
James: Yeah. Look, I mean this is part of the thing that our research has taken us to, is that there is so much great information, you know? I mean, I'll disclose I'm a member of UniSuper and I think the information that you put forward is awesome. And you know, I mean, we can look at the ASIC website and there's Financial Literacy Australia, and they're all really great websites, but I think the challenge for us is both to get people to engage with that information, but then also to look back, to look backwards, to look at where these unconscious biases emerge and discourage women from engaging in the STEM subjects, especially, you know, mathematics and finance, and encouraging... and breaking down those barriers.
It's almost like, you know, there's this...yeah, so that's the big challenge, is getting people to engage with all the great information that's out there, and there are a lot of really good I think organisations that produce great information. But also, like I said, is getting us and parents to be aware that, you know, especially in the contemporary world where a lot of young people are gonna face the gig economy where that sort of guaranteed regular income at 20 years is much less likely, it's really important that we look at financial literacy as a fundamental part of learning about being citizens and surviving in this economy.
Rob: Well, completely agree obviously, engagement with your finances and superannuation is very important. And you touched on it there, James, particularly I think conversations should be had earlier about super and budgeting. How early in life should that actually occur, do you think? Should it be happening in high schools or primary school?
James: Look, I think the thing that I’ve learned as an educator is that you can talk to students about almost any topic at any time in their development, as long as you make it relevant. So the idea to talk about... I suppose, you know, if you're talking to say a 14-year-old, a class of 14-year-olds, be it boys or girls, if you start talking about superannuation when they retire when they're 60, you know, or 65, the issue there is that for that person, being old is 18, not 65, and so they're not gonna pay attention. But the question is how do we make those kinds of decisions relevant in their lives today? And that's a challenge I think for educators.
I don't think it's ever too early to start educating people about finance and about planning ahead. The challenge in this area is for us to ensure that it's really relevant. And it could be about pocket money, it could be about saving for Christmas, it could be about saving for schoolies and, you know, looking well ahead more than just that... you know, like at the end of the year for Christmas. But I think that kind of planning and longer-term budgeting is fundamental.
Lauren: And part of what we could be teaching as well is gendered attitudes. The thing that... that's a really... that has a really big effect on this and people, especially young women's attitude towards finances. So, even not necessarily going into teaching actual finance or financial literacy, but teaching about attitudes or broadening gender role attitudes can still influence people the way that they're going to think and the way that they're going to interact with their personal finances in the future.
Lyndon: And I believe I read that the results of the survey we've been discussing are preliminary. What's the more detailed research that you need to conduct from this point? And, you know, if members were interested in being involved in it, how can they get involved and what can they do?
James: Look, we're undertaking that... there's only three things that we're kind of doing simultaneously at the moment, one is looking at doing a bit of a review about all the information that is out there, and kind of seeing which information is most appealing, and seeing how we can find different ways to deliver it. And so one of the things we're investigating is the possibility of delivering it through like an education mechanism, online learning or an app or something like that. So that's one of the things that we're researching, and we're forming a bit of a consultative group to do that amongst some young students at the university.
The second thing that we're looking at doing is actually doing some more research around people's engagement and understanding of superannuation. And I know that there are some pretty clear patterns established in the superannuation industry about, you know, the number of people that say have money in a super fund but how engaged they are in that super fund, and that varies considerably. So understanding why people don't engage more with their super fund is I think a really interesting area of research that we're considering, and so we're trying to build up on some of that research at the moment.
And the third thing is again going... we'll go out with a broader... we're aiming to go out with a broader survey to survey both men and women and see what... you know, again, to see sort of how they would engage or which parts are weaker.
So, there's kind of three levels, we haven't got a timeline on exactly what we... we're waiting to do that, but we are planning to kick that off in 2018.
Marta: Excellent, you'll have to keep us posted so we can get our members involved. James and Lauren, thanks so much for your time this morning or this afternoon, wherever you're listening, we really appreciate it.
Lauren: Thanks for having us.
James: No, great topic, really great to discuss it. Thanks so much.
Marta: So if you're keen to build any skills, knowledge, and confidence in managing your finances, we've got our very own MoneySavvy tool on MemberOnline, which is a series of interactive activities designed to improve your money management skills and covers things like everyday budgeting, investment basics, investing for the future, retirement planning, and protecting your money. So, actually covers some of the stuff that we've been talking about today.
If you're interested, simply go to unisuper.com.au/memberonline, and you can access it through the resources tab.
Rob: And for the littlies we've got Money Confident KidsTM which we have developed with T. Rowe Price, which is designed to give kids a leg up about how money works through various activities and games. And there's even something there for the parents as well so that you can help instil some good money behaviours with your children from an early age. That is also in our MemberOnline facility, so go to unisuper.com.au/memberonline and you'll find that there under the resources tab.
Lyndon: That draws us to the close of our anniversary episode of Super Informed Radio.
Rob: It does. But we'll be back next month.
Lyndon: We will.
Lyndon: We will indeed, and in 2018.
Marta: Yes, we will have some cool episodes for everyone.
Rob: We've been renewed for another year.
Marta: Oh, what a relief. So, you can find a link to the research that Lauren and James are conducting, and any other resources that we've talked about, in our show notes. If you've got a question that you'd like us to explore in future episodes, feel free to drop us a line at firstname.lastname@example.org. You could also catch up on past episodes or subscribe to us through Apple Podcasts, Overcasts, or just on our website at unisuper.com.au/podcasts. Thanks very much for listening everyone.
Rob: See you later.