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Why “Girl Math” is a Stereotype That’s Holding Us Back

May 1, 2024

In 2023, #girlmath gained momentum on social media, poking fun at how people – women in particular - justify making frivolous purchases like handbags and vacations. And while I don’t want you to think I’m a financial advisor with no sense of humor…I can’t help but feel like the term “girl math” is detrimental to all the hard work we’ve put in trying to get the world to understand that women are just as good at financial planning as men are.

First, let’s look at the statistics. According to Gitnux, when it comes to spending, women are ahead of men with 70-80% of consumer spending while men make up the rest. But here’s where men pull ahead in the spending race:

  • Men are more likely to make impulse purchases (54%) than women (45%).
  •  Men spend 110% more on electronics than women.
  • Men spend nearly twice as much on dining and entertainment for socializing than women.
  • Men account for 62% of the total online spending in the United States.
  • Men are twice as likely as women to spend $2,000 or more on gadgets.

But even if we didn’t have the numbers to show that men can be frivolous spenders, too, it’s important to note that our words can have a negative impact – even when it’s supposed to be a joke.

Girls and STEM

Let’s first talk about what “girl math” is: It’s supposedly a way for women to justify needless spending. So, what does that imply?

  • That women have no self-control when it comes to money.
  • That women are flitting around buying shoes, expensive coffee, and getting pedicures instead of saving for the future.
  • That women are bad at math.

Overall, it perpetuates harmful stereotypes and creates a divisive atmosphere, particularly in financial education. It implies that girls are somehow inherently worse at or less capable of managing finances than boys.

According to AAUW, “Many girls lose confidence in math by third grade. Boys, on the other hand, are more likely to say they are strong in math by 2nd grade, before any performance differences are evident.”

Also, “STEM fields are often viewed as masculine, and teachers and parents often underestimate girls’ math abilities starting as early as preschool.”

I can’t imagine that it helps that there is a social media trend going around that is saying to young girls, “The world thinks you’re frivolous and can’t manage your money. You can see that millions of girls are doing it – so, it’s okay if you do it, too.”

Again, while the videos are funny, I would imagine that most women who see them get a little feeling in the pit of their stomachs that something isn’t right – that women aren’t being represented well through this label.

The truth is that both genders seem to have their flaws when it comes to spending and both have their strengths when it comes to saving. And most of the issues that people have around money they would have regardless of gender – we just seem to feel comfortable categorizing things as masculine or feminine.

What “girl math” is – generally speaking – is poor budgeting skills. Which both genders can be guilty of.

Words Matter

Language matters. The words we use can have a powerful impact on how we perceive ourselves and others. By flippantly categorizing poor spending habits as inherently female, those of us who are laughing at it are undoing a lot of progress.

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