Tuesday 21 May 2019

Gender pay gap began with my piggy bank

My parents opened a bank account for me at six - stirring an enduring interest in money, writes Lucy Mangan

Girls should be taught about the value of money
Girls should be taught about the value of money

Lucy Mangan

To be clear. I am very much up for gender pay equality. The more revealing reports on pay by companies, the better. But there are other things needed too in the push for parity - salary differentials are the final stage of a filtering process that needs to be tackled long before that point.

What gets overlooked in the rush to tackle the tangible and easily measured bits of financial inequality is how differently men and women (or boys and girls) are brought up to consider the world of money.

My parents opened my first bank account for me when I was six. They put in five pounds and in return I got a green money box that sorted coins into their different categories as they rolled down the slope at the top.

All being well, I saw - instantly and entire - how every tower of coins cupped in its respective semi-circular groove would rise to the top unhindered by the need for withdrawal.

If one lived within one's means - which, at this point, meant nine pence every Thursday to keep up with Nurse Nancy's tribulations in my weekly Twinkle comic, and five pence-worth of cola bottles to eat while reading - one could deposit the towers at the bank in full, against the day when one no longer had any means at all.

The inaugural hit of dopamine to my anxious, preternaturally pessimistic juvenile system provided by this realisation has yet to be surpassed. I was reborn.

And also, in ways I was not to appreciate for many years, unsexed.

It sparked, you see, a strong and enduring interest in my finances and in money generally - what it could be used for, what could be done with it, how you could make more of it.

My father, as pathological a saver as my mother (I was genetically primed to fall in love with that green money box and all it could offer me) but with more time on his hands to spell out nebulous concepts to his daughters, explained interest to me.

"If you give me a pound," he said, "I will use it for a month as part of my money and then give it back to you with an extra 10p." I did, and he did - a rate of return, incidentally, that I have never bettered.

But as my savings accrued, so did the disapproval. Not from my family, obviously - we don't so much save for a rainy day as have DNA made of wintry downpours - but from the world at large.

Just like they weren't supposed to be interested in football, physics or getting a decent job (delete according to age), girls weren't supposed to be interested in money. Money, of course, is power.

The disparity between men and women's relationship with money could be seen in the reactions a few years ago to the end of child benefit for those earning over a certain, fairly substantial, amount.

Among the relatively well-educated, high-earning (before they took maternity leave and/or became stay-at-home mothers) and, we might assume without too much strain, empowered women, two equally astonishing notes of panic were sounded.

First, that child benefit was the only money that was "theirs" - their husbands' income apparently conceptualised as something he generously doled out portions of to his wife and any children she (parthenogenically?) had.

And second, that it was the only money they didn't feel guilty about spending on coffee or wine with friends.

I have not time nor patience to unpick all that is entangled in that little psychical ball. Suffice to say that it is not easy to envisage the same reaction from men under any circumstances.

We internalise the amorphous, unspoken but pervasive belief that money is not really a women's business. And of course there is, at least among the more naturally optimistic, a small part of the brain that we don't talk about at feminist parties: a certain attraction to the idea that we won't have to take full financial responsibility for ourselves because a knight on a fully-diversified portfolio will, eventually, save us.

Valiant recent efforts on the part of some websites (like for instance Holly Mackay's BoringMoney.co.uk) to make matters more accessible to the beginners among whom women are disproportionately numbered notwithstanding, on the most part, those who might be expected to want to entice us to take an interest in financial matters... do not.

Adverts for investment services et al are not designed to appeal to a wide demographic. They're mostly chiselled men in kayaks, navigating white water rapids with grinning confidence. I don't know why kayaks are such a big thing in finance - is everyone invested in Big Paddle? - but they are.

And the language used around the subject is equally, if more subtly, alienating. Aside from the jargon, as the recent campaign #MakeMoneyEqual from Starling Bank, founded and run by Anne Boden, the former chief operating officer of AIB, pointed out, 65pc of financial writing aimed at women defines them as "splurgers" - excessive spenders who need to "rein in their spending" and "cut back on coffees" in order to "save for those Louboutins".

Meanwhile, 70pc of articles on money in men's magazines make it clear that financial success makes them more of a man. You can buy a bigger kayak, I guess.

All these factors help impoverish women literally and metaphorically.

We need access not just to money itself but the knowledge that tells us what can be done with it. The cost otherwise is too high.


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