Many young people may feel like they’re losing their footing in the current financial climate of the United States. After the pandemic began, a large number of people found themselves without a job or a steady source of income. Many people still find themselves struggling to get back on their feet almost three years after the pandemic began, and in no way is it their fault.
Learning how the economy works and how to manage your finances often feels daunting and impossible. It can seem like everyone else has their finances figured out except you. Starting a conversation about financial advice and planning is not easy, especially when society prioritizes and normalizes the education of cisgender white men over everyone else.
I have noticed the most financial prejudice in higher education. While higher education alone is a privilege, one would still expect such an institutional environment to entertain less prejudice towards women and people of color who simply want to learn more about the financial world. I attended college in Idaho, and I was appalled at the amount of sexism I experienced in male-dominated classes, especially in fields such as environmental politics, business, and economics. These classes—full of cisgender white men (and taught by cisgender white men)—were difficult to weather because it never felt like women or people of color were a part of the conversation.
The gender divide in these classes was highly noticeable, and it was no surprise to learn that “...for every female economics major today there are almost 2.9 male majors nationwide.” While financial education in higher academia is not generally required for non-economics majors, many people may choose to enroll in a course or two because they have not received any financial education prior to attending college. That was the case with myself, and it was also the case with virtually all of my peers. Still, there were only a handful of women in my business and economics classes, including myself, and there were no people of color at all.
I remember very vividly my economics professor making a joke about his wife, centered on how women are inherently bad with money. Of course, all my male classmates laughed, while I was understandably offended. This sort of language and mentality is what contributed to my looming fear of being excluded from financial education in higher education, and I’m sure that the other women in my class felt the same.
The racial gap in financial skills is just as prominent as the gender gap, because “...minority groups can have less access to wealth, higher rates of unemployment, and less education.” In the U.S., people of color generate a significantly lower amount of income, with Black families earning a median income of $48,297 in 2021 while white families earned about $77,999. This is a primary example of financial disparity caused by systemic racism, which can affect wealth accumulation, property taxes, school systems, and so much more. Minority groups have significantly less access to financial education than white people purely due to systemic racism.
Managing and understanding finances is something that every single person should be able to learn regardless of sex or race, but society is unfortunately not built to help women and/or people of color succeed. If there was any financial advice that I would want to give to others, I would start by recommending the following:
Focus on your own financial freedom. Do everything in your power to educate yourself on your own finances and take control of your future.
Learn about all of the different ways you can build wealth. Whether it be investing or planning for retirement, set financial goals and create plans to meet them.
Consider meeting with a financial advisor for outside guidance if needed.
The financial advice that has been the most helpful for me is to keep a strict budget and foster my financial freedom, confidence, and independence. The most effective way to deal with your personal finances is to plan ahead and budget or save accordingly. This might seem intuitive, but it’s extremely difficult to create a financial plan and stick to it with every expense and tax that we are faced with today in our white supremacist and capitalist society. Starting the conversation about financial education is an important first step in creating a financial plan that will help you increase personal wealth and encourage financial security.
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Daniel Thomas Mollenkamp, https://www.investopedia.com/the-racial-gap-in-financial-literacy-5119258
Jessica Semega and Melissa Kollar, https://www.census.gov/library/visualizations/2022/demo/p60-276.html
Paula A. Braveman, Elaine Arkin, Dwayne Proctor, Tina Kauh, and Nicole Holm, https://www.healthaffairs.org/doi/10.1377/hlthaff.2021.01394