Every year, the Jump$tart Coalition for Financial Literacy tests the money smarts of America’s high school seniors. Discouragingly, the students who took the test in 2008 had the lowest scores ever recorded since the survey began in 1997. The average score was just 48.3 percent — a failing grade.
Lewis Mandell, a finance professor at the University of Washington who analyzes the Jump$tart survey each year, says there’s no difference in overall financial literacy by gender, but there was a pattern regarding which subjects boys and girls knew best. Male teens consistently answered questions about investing and taxes correctly while females had a better grasp on questions relating to income and insurance.
Unless your student is taking a financial literacy course at school, chances are most of what they know about handling day-to-day finance comes from watching you. And you may not realize what you are teaching.
Often there is a gender breakdown of household financial chores. While this certainly isn’t the rule, wives often manage the household finances while husbands plan for retirement and other major expenses. If mom pays the bills, daughters may take more of an interest in kitchen table economics. But if mom makes the stock picks, she may gravitate toward information about bond coupons, not coupon clipping.
A Charles Schwab survey on teens and money found 57 percent of girls said they knew how to write a check compared to 44 percent of teen boys. One-quarter of teenage boys say they know how to invest money compared to 20 percent of teen girls. Sadly, boys are far more likely to believe they will earn “plenty of money” when they get older (81 percent vs. 65 percent). And the majority of teens know that men tend to earn more money than their female counterparts. The disparity caused Carrie Schwab Pomerantz to proclaim in her Yahoo! Personal Finance column on the survey results: “The gender gap is (sadly) alive and well.”
Not all is rosy for teen boys, however.
A 2007 paper written by University of Minnesota family social science professor Sharon Danes examined how teens of each gender handled debt and savings. Males and females generally saved the same amount of money and made decisions about how much to save in similar ways. But when it came to debt, 23 percent of males had debt of $1,040 on average compared to 27 percent of females who had about half that amount. Why? Blame it on the wheels: Teen guys were more likely to owe money on a car or motorcycle.
So how can parents impart the same money smarts to their sons and daughters? Talk to them about their feelings and perceptions surrounding money. Then you can address the ones influenced by stereotypes or unfortunate societal norms. You can also make a conscious effort to share your wisdom on everything from budgeting to compound interest, mutual funds to credit cards equally with your sons and daughters. Credit scores don’t care if you wear skirts or slacks.
Finally, make sure you are an active participant in all areas of your financial life. While most couples divvy up the household duties, finances included, at least have monthly money meetings so you know where the family stands with short- and long-term goals. And if you have gaps in your financial knowledge, make the effort to educate yourself alongside your kids.
Kara McGuire writes about finances for the Star Tribune. Follow her at Twitter.com/Kablog.