Are women really worse with money than men are?
This question has been hanging over me as personal finance books for women pile up on my desk. There's Suze Orman's Women & Money, Lois Frankel's Nice Girls Don't Get Rich, Jean Chatzky's Make Money, Not Excuses, and David Bach's Smart Women Finish Rich, to name a few.
They've all proved to be extremely popular, judging from their Amazon rankings. But why? Is it because we women really do need special help with money, or do we just like reading about it more than men do?
To answer my questions, I did a little research. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that single men and women ages 25 to 34 exhibit similar spending patterns. The main difference is that single men spend more on transportation while single women spend more on apparel and services. (Men also spend about twice as much on alcohol and $600 more on car purchases.) No evidence there that women are inherently spendthrifts.
The same is true on the credit front. According to a Demos calculation based on the Survey of Consumer Finances, a higher proportion of women ages 25 to 34 carry credit card debt compared with their male peers—76 percent vs. 67 percent—but the men carry higher amounts of debt, which is what really matters when you're trying to stay on top of monthly bills.
Men in the 25-to-34 age group carry $4,369 on average, compared with women's $4,038. Credit scores, a measure of one's fiscal responsibility, show virtually no difference between men and women. Average scores across all age groups vary only a few percentage points by gender, according to Experian.
Another trend that tends to be all but ignored by these books: Women are making more money than ever before. While men between the ages of 25 and 34 have seen their wages decline over the past 25 years, women's wages have risen. In fact, 1 in 3 wives now out-earns her husband.
Although fathers still make more than mothers on average, fathers' earnings have held relatively constant over the past 35 years, while mothers' earnings have more than doubled. And despite the popular "mommy track" stereotype, research shows we can increasingly move in and out of the workforce and combine motherhood with careers.
My conclusion? Women aren't any worse with money—we just like to read about it.