Spotlight On: Financial Literacy for women: Why a man is not a (financial) plan.

16 February 2024


This article first appeared in the Queenwood Connect Portal on Friday 16 February 2024.

Some of the world’s most powerful economic positions are currently held by women. To name a few, Christine Lagarde is the President of the European Central Bank, Kristalina Georgieva is the Managing Director of the International Monetary Fund, Janet Yellen is the US Secretary of the Treasury as well as the former Chair of the US Federal Reserve. Closer to home, we have Michelle Bullock as the current Governor of the Reserve Bank of Australia, the first woman to hold the role.
Sadly, this handful of key appointments masks a significant gender disparity in the profession – which by some measures is even greater than the well-publicised disparity in STEM fields. This underrepresentation of women has remained unchanged since the 1990s and is unlikely to improve any time soon, as the disparity is also evident in both universities and schools – the ‘pipeline’ of future economists.
In high schools in the 1990’s, the economics candidature was split roughly 50:50 between boys and girls. Now the ratio is about 70:30.  Currently in Australian universities, there are about three male economics majors for every female major. With these numbers, it is perhaps unsurprising that Australia is yet to appoint a female federal Treasurer!
This lack of women matters because those who study economics go on to make economic policies that shape all our lives. Our current economic systems typically reflect the interests of the men who designed them and who may not ‘see’ issues of significance to women such as childcare in the same way. Women economists are more likely to focus on government intervention, environmental regulation and issues of equality. At the high school level, female students are typically more interested in identifying problems to be solved, and in issues like globalisation and the environment, whereas male students tend to be more interested in topics such as the share market and production decisions.
At Queenwood, we are proud of the strong numbers of girls bucking the trend and studying Economics. Over one-third of our Senior Students take IB or HSC Economics (one-e Economics and Business field also made up the most popular post-school area of study for our 2023 Year 12 graduates (just edging out STEM fields).
Even for those who are not interested in Economics or Business as a career, financial literacy is critical for all women. We know that in Australia, economic outcomes for women are lower than those of men, and in fact Australia’s  global ranking in this area has declined significantly over the last two decades.
Men typically start their working lives on a higher income and move faster than women into higher salary positions. This enables them to purchase assets and boost their superannuation, ensuring a more comfortable standard of living in retirement.
On the other hand, women typically have lower paying jobs and often take time out of the workforce. This leads to lower lifetime earnings and lower incomes in retirement. In fact, in Australia, by age 60, more than one-third of single women will be living in poverty.
Relying on a partner for financial stability is a high-risk strategy. Currently as many as 44% of marriages in Australia end in divorce. Moreover, about 1 in 4 women have experienced abuse from a current or past intimate partner. Financial abuse often accompanies physical and emotional abuse as a type of family violence.
So until structural barriers and inequities are addressed, women are typically going to have less income than men. It is critical therefore that women be able to make wise financial decisions. To put things bluntly, they have less room for error.
Unfortunately, studies have found that there is a knowledge gender gap here as well. For example, a world-wide survey by financial company Allianz found that twice the number of Australian women surveyed compared to men exhibited low financial literacy - 34% of women, versus 16% of men. The report also found that more than three quarters of women were not confident regarding their financial situation.
Unsurprisingly, individuals with higher financial literacy tend to make better financial decisions, leading to greater financial stability and security over their lifetimes.
Here at Queenwood, over half of our students study Commerce in Years 9 and 10. All students have participated in school programs and seminars like the women in business panel discussion for year 10’s last year.
By closing the gender gap in economics, and in financial knowledge and confidence, we can help girls build brighter futures for themselves, achieve economic independence, and contribute positively to society. This independence is crucial for their economic empowerment, enabling them to pursue education, career goals, and life aspirations without being financially reliant on others.

Our upcoming Balmoral lecture will be delivered by renowned US Economist Betsey Stevenson whose research often focuses on issues related to gender economics such as the gender wage gap, family dynamics, and the division of household labour. Dr Stevenson has also contributed to the field of happiness economics, examining the determinants of subjective well-being and life satisfaction. To purchase a ticket for this lecture or learn more about the series, click here