How gender affects your financial relationships

A person using a finance app on a tablet while sitting over coffee
Authored by Julie Kun

You might think that your gender and your bank balance are unrelated entities, but the reality is that money and gender have a much more complex relationship than most of us realise.

In a 2015 survey WIRE conducted, we found 78 per cent of women respondents said they had difficulty talking to their partner about money.

From feelings such as guilt and powerlessness, to a lack of trust and lying about money, there are some common issues that couples need to address to achieve a shared understanding of what financial wellbeing looks like and how it will be achieved.

For many of us, avoiding the topic altogether can seem like an easy way to avoid unnecessary stress, disagreements and fights – but in reality, this often leads to confusion and built up resentment about how we are managing our finances.

The impact of our gender

The expectations that society places on us inform our behaviour. Men often receive direct and indirect messages that they should be the breadwinner in a heterosexual relationship. These messages emphasise the stereotypes that men should be powerful, strong, autonomous and aggressive, and assertiveness is rewarded.

Conversely women are often socialised to avoid conflict and put other people's needs before their own, to seek cooperation and harmony. Women are steered away from traits, such as assertiveness, that are traditionally thought to be masculine.

This means the way many women and men approach money may be different. The different ways in which men and women communicate may affect the kinds of conversations that heterosexual couples have about finances. These gender stereotypes can also be seen playing out in the difference that men and women experience when they have conversations with professionals around financial decision making. This only reinforces and exaggerates the impact of gender assumptions within relationships.   

Many women seek emotional understanding from their partners, and value a more empathetic approach.

Many men, on the other hand, respond to a complicated or emotionally fraught issue with prompt, practical, unemotional advice, assuming that is what their partner wants.

This difference in approaches to money may lead to disagreements between you and your partner.

Talking to your partner about money

Women Talk Money is a resource WIRE has created to help women talk about money with their partners in a healthy way.

Financial abuse

 Financial abuse occurs when someone takes control of your money, stops you from being financially independent or earning your own money, or seeks to denigrate and undermine your skills as a financial decision maker.

Unfortunately, financial abuse is a reality that too many women experience. Although the vast majority of people who experience financial abuse are women, men also experience financial abuse. Financial abuse can also occur in heterosexual and same-sex relations. It’s a systematic behaviour and a form of family violence that can be present with other forms of abuse, such as physical or emotional abuse – but it can also occur without these other behaviours and isn’t always obvious. In fact, some forms of financial abuse initially may seem like displays of affection or trust.

“I handed my total self over to him. You know, I’m the wife; I’ll raise the kids; he’ll look after me. Wrong! Wrong!” Pauline, 55 Melbourne. 

Where can you get help?

If you think you might be in a financially abusive relationship, don’t have access to your accounts or would like to speak to someone about your financial situation, it’s a good idea to talk to someone you trust such as a friend, relative or counsellor. Every day at WIRE we speak to women experiencing financial abuse, so know you are not alone.

There are also a number of organisations and services that can provide help and support. These organisations will provide a safe place for you to have a confidential conversation and explore your options:

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