Downtown Abbey, Women and Money

By Claire Emory

Women’s financial independence has come very far since the old days. Yet when it comes to managing money, women still lag far behind men. The silver lining is they know what they don’t know and when to seek help.

In the latest season of TV’s Downton Abbey, the women characters face financial issues with confusion. The cook gets an inheritance and doesn’t know what to do. She turns to the butler for advice, despite his inexperience. The wealthy women of the estate have difficulties in making financial decisions, too. One of them inherits a business but may be neglecting it because she is focused on motherhood.

While much has changed since the early 20th century when the show is set, women today still have a long way to go to in achieving financial literacy on par with men.

In “Lessons from Downton Abbey about women and money,” the website outlines how women continue to fall behind men in money management confidence and in financial literacy, even though women of today are more likely to be college-educated.

The article cites studies that show women are less capable of answering basic financial questions. The 2009 National Financial Capability Study surveyed 1,500 Americans and asked them three questions about investing. Only 22% women get all of them right, compared with 38% of men. The gap exists in other industrialized counties.

Women are less confident in themselves, too. In the study, they were more likely to choose “I don’t know” as an answer. When researchers gave the same questions to Dutch respondents with the “I don’t know” choice removed, the women got more questions right. (But they still underperformed men.)

After controlling for factors such as age and education, the results persist. For example, young women with college degrees were still 13 percentage points less likely to answer those financial literacy questions correctly than were young college-educated men.

The article mentions what experts see as a glimmer of hope, which is women’s honesty about their lack of financial knowledge. They know what they do not know.

Just as the cook seeks the butler’s help, and the housekeeper suggests that she should ask a more experienced man outside of the insular world of the estate, the ability to recognize that they need more knowledge and perhaps some professional guidance is important.

An advisor can help women — and men, too, of course — make financial decisions, take a comprehensive look at their situation and get their financial house in order. No one wants to make the wrong decisions and end up with little at retirement. And yet, if women let confusion or fear keep them from planning, their finances will not be in good shape.

Claire Emory, CFP, CFA, RIA, owns and operates Clarity Financial Planning LLC in Arlington, Va.
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