Fifty Years of Title IX: Why the Fight for Financial Equality Isn’t Over

female symbol atop a shorter pile of coins looks up at a male symbol on top of a tall pile of coins
Kathleen Craig Photo

6 minutes

Women still lag behind their male counterparts when it comes to financial well-being. Here’s how credit unions can help.

Though women have had the right to vote in the U.S. for more than a century, inequalities between genders were still widely apparent just decades ago—in classrooms, in sports, in the workplace and even within homes. Since then, progress has been made globally toward gender equity and inclusion, and women now have more access to education, opportunities and resources. This is largely the result of the passage of Title IX in 1972, which prohibited discrimination based on sex in education, athletics and more.

Title IX pushed for much-needed progress in women’s rights, and this summer marked the 50th anniversary of the legislation. However, the fight for equality is not over, especially when it comes to achieving financial wellness. Women still tend to lag behind men today when it comes to knowledge of finances and wealth-building.

Research shows that women do not lack the motivation, perseverance or skill to manage finances. In fact, being financially independent ranks among the top three priorities for women.

Unfortunately, a lack of education and resources for women make it difficult to overcome such financial hurdles as high cost of living, saving for retirement and paying for childcare, among other challenges. Meanwhile, women only earn 82 cents for every $1 men earn when comparing all women to all men—a stat that is unchanged from 2021, according to Payscale’s 2022 State of the Gender Pay Gap Report. Given this persistent pay gap, financial concerns are uniquely challenging for women, particularly for women who are single mothers.

Fortunately, credit unions are in a position to empower women to confidently make the best financial decisions possible and achieve greater financial wellness. To do this, we first need to understand the specific roadblocks women face and ensure they have the right tools and resources to take control of their financial future.  

Confidence Gap or Knowledge Gap?

To tailor financial wellness initiatives to the needs of women, it is important to identify where women are falling behind men when it comes to financial literacy and determine why. According to the 2022 TIAA Institute’s Personal Finance Index, scores in personal finance knowledge tend to be lower among women than men on average, particularly in the areas of investing and saving.

However, women are often more knowledgeable than they believe. The gap in financial literacy between genders can be linked to the fact that women tend to feel less confident and empowered about their financial knowledge, and this doubt reflects in tests of financial literacy against men.

It’s worth noting that in TIAA Institute’s Personal Finance Index survey, questions are multiple choice and include the option “I don’t know.” Women answered with “I don’t know” to 25% of the index questions, on average. By comparison, men answered with “don’t know” to 20% of the index questions.

Additionally, a recent study from George Washington University revealed that more than one-third of the gender gap in financial literacy can be attributed to levels of confidence, rather than a true gap in knowledge. This confidence gap impacts women's future financial plans and it makes them less likely to act on opportunities to build wealth. Beyond this, cultural beliefs about gender roles can negatively impact women’s actions regarding finances, which can affect everything from salary negotiations to investing in the stock market.

Women Have a Distinct Financial Journey

Financial wellness looks different for every woman, and it is important to understand the unique challenges women face when it comes to managing their finances and building wealth. Credit unions can play a significant role here and help women strengthen their personal finance skills to make smart financial decisions at each stage of life.

To illustrate why this matters, consider these statistics. On average, women live five years longer than men, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Women also spend more on healthcare throughout their lives. From ages 18 to 44, health spending for females is 84% higher than men for the same years, and from ages 44 to 64, spending for women is 24% higher. Consider this in light of the gender pay gap, which means women earn on average nearly $1 million less than men over the course of their careers.

Not only does the wage gap among men and women remain a challenge in the U.S., but racial disparities are prominent as well. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, women of color consistently feel the harshest effects of the wage gap and experience some of the highest rates of poverty compared to their white and male counterparts. In addition, women of color, who are more likely to work in low-wage front-line roles, face more job losses than their white counterparts. As a result, many women of color struggle to build savings, achieve financial stability and recover from such unexpected economic downturns as the COVID-19 pandemic.

Women must be prepared to navigate these issues to achieve sustained financial wellness, and it is essential that women of color are intentionally centered in discussions about earnings, the wage gap and financial wellness. By rewarding good saving habits, providing tailored educational resources and financial guidance, credit unions can help struggling women across race and ethnicity create a positive financial future for themselves and their families.

Credit unions can also empower their members, regardless of gender, by tailoring messaging and financial recommendations based on an individuals’ financial goals. For example, if a new mother wanted to start a college fund to save for her child’s future tuition, her credit union can use that intel to make a tailored product offer, like a certificate of deposit account that would help her reach her goal faster. Personalizing messaging and product offers to an individual’s financial situation and goals is one of the best ways credit unions can strengthen member relationships and supply additional resources to those who need it.

Financial Inequality in Women’s Sports—What Can We Learn From It?

While there have been many positive results since Title IX was passed 50 years ago, there is more progress to be made before complete equality is achieved, as women still face roadblocks to financial independence. However, knowledge is power, and when women are informed, they are empowered.

The U.S. women’s soccer team is an excellent example of this. After they won the 2015 World Cup, the players’ earnings did not increase; they were paid significantly less than the men’s team, despite performing better. In response, the team fought for equal pay and brought to light financial reports that showed the women’s team generated more revenue than the men’s team. The U.S. women’s soccer team won this battle and reached a settlement with U.S. Soccer ensuring equal pay moving forward. These women managed to take control of their financial futures and achieve greater financial equality for future generations of athletes.

This is something we can all learn from. If we empower more individuals with the confidence to make informed financial decisions, we can achieve greater, more equitable financial wellness for our communities.

Kathleen Craig is founder/CEO of Plinqit, a fintech company based in Ann Arbor, Michigan.

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