Shattering 5 Myths About Women and Money

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When it comes to money, our society fosters a lot of silly stereotypes. One successful businesswoman helps us dismantle some of them.

There are a lot of persistent gender stereotypes in our culture — how many times have you heard “men think about sex every seven seconds” and “women aren’t good at math”?

Evidence abounds that these stereotypes are nothing more than that.  Take, for example, Lenore Nolan-Ryan, who started her own business as a teenager — and has owned and operated restaurants, catering businesses and a cooking school for many years since.

“I started my own company when I was 18,” says Nolan-Ryan, who now runs a self-named cooking school and catering business in Lauderdale-by-the-Sea, Fla. “I’ve been doing it ever since. Women can be very, very successful.”

Statistics back her up: According to the National Restaurant Association, women own about half of American restaurants.

We asked Nolan-Ryan to rebut some other stereotypes. Listen to what she said about her own philosophy in this video, and read on for some more myth-mashing.

Now let’s go over those myths Stacy mentioned in more detail, and hear what Nolan-Ryan had to say:

1. Women aren’t good at business. Maybe this stereotype is a holdover from when female faces in the office belonged to secretaries and phone operators — you know, 60 years ago.

But as Nolan-Ryan said, she’s been doing fine as an owner since she was 18. And according to small business advice group SCORE.org, women account “for more than 1/3 of all people involved in entrepreneurial activity,” and the number of women-owned businesses is growing at twice the rate of all business.

But women still have some ground to gain: According to the U.S. Census bureau, in 2007, women owned 7.8 million businesses and accounted for 28.7 percent of all businesses nationwide, while men owned 52 percent.  Businesses owned equally by men and women numbered 4.6 million firms (17.0 percent of all businesses).

2. Women can’t invest well. Nolan-Ryan smiled at this one. “Women will ask more questions,” she says. “It’s all right if I don’t know the answer — I’ll get the best information. You have to leave your ego at the door when it comes to investing.” Investment management company Vanguard backs her up: They found that women save more, trade less, and diversify better. Why? “Economists suggest that men tend to overestimate their investing abilities,” says Vanguard.

3. Women spend more than men. While women and shopping has been the fodder of countless jokes, the notion that women spend more money than men is simply not true.  Nolan-Ryan says, “I think it’s proven that single men spend more money on food and toys than women do.”  She’s right: Single men are the biggest spenders. According to Bundle.com, single men spend 18 percent more than single women.  They also carry slightly more credit card debt.

Men are just as likely as women to make impulse buys, but for some reason the stereotype sticks to women. Sure, they do spend a lot of money as managers of the household, which is why so much advertising targets them — according to Elizabeth Duke, a member of the Board of Governors of the U.S. Federal Reserve, “Women account for 80 percent of all consumer purchasing decisions, making 93 percent of food purchases and 65 percent of auto purchases.” And they’re also more likely to be budget-conscious than men and more likely to take advantage of things like sales and coupons.

4. Women make the same as men. This one’s unfortunately not true, despite what egalitarians keep saying. According to a recently-released study from the White House called Women in America [PDF], the average woman’s income is only 75 percent of the average man’s. (This doesn’t mean, however, that women are necessarily paid less for the same job – see this recent story from Stacy.)

Why do women bring home less? Nolan-Ryan says, “Women have a big responsibility. Their first love is to take care of their family, their children, and sometimes their elderly parents.” She adds, “I don’t think money is what always motivates women. It’s the passion and the love for what we’re doing, and who we’re doing it for: often, the family.”

While that may be true, there’s evidence to suggest that societal prejudice might also play a role in the gender pay gap. A Harvard University study [PDF] found that women are less likely than men to ask for a raise – and can be considered “too aggressive” if they do, whereas it’s more acceptable for men to do so.  Over a career, this adds up.

By the way, it is getting better, slowly — in 1979, women earned only 62 percent as much as men.  For advise on closing the gender-based wage gap, check out 3 Ways to Help  Close the Financial Gender Gap.

5. Women are too emotional to manage money effectively. Another myth: The survey from PNC Bank mentioned above indicates men are the ones more likely to take more risks on investments than women, and more likely to act impulsively.

Men are also more likely to strive for money for money’s sake.  Wealth is less a measure of success to women, or as Nolan-Ryan puts it, women have “a balance of love and the motivation for money and they look at things entirely different than men do.”

She adds, “I think maybe men are more interested in money because they’re trying to impress women. But if they took a few cooking classes and really got to the heart of what women want, which is family and love, then I think they’d be much more successful.”

There you go — five myths sliced and diced by statistics and a successful entrepreneur.

We’ll be offering more stories about women and money for Women’s History Month. Next week: Money Tips for Women.

Stacy Johnson

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