If you’ve spent time on TikTok, Instagram, X, or Threads, you’ve likely heard of #GirlMath.
The #GirlMath trend demonstrates an often funny, non-linear thought process about spending money. The divisive hashtag has garnered all kinds of attention—good and bad. For some, the #GirlMath is nothing more than a funny take on the human side of spending, opening the door for real conversations about money. For others, it’s a toxic fodder for the stereotypical narrative that women are not good at money management—or math.
While we aren't directly tackling the toxicity level of these posts today, we can all agree that the trend does bring up a few deeply rooted stereotypes for women in our culture. The positive thing about shedding light on these skeletons in our collective closet is—this time—we’re calling bullsh*t where it’s due.
The history of women and math.
Before we can talk about women and money, we have to address the elephant in the room. For decades, researchers have reported that girls perform worse than boys in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) subjects.
Research studies have examined the gender gap in classroom performance, parent influences, teacher perception, test performance, and college degree outcomes. The literature seems to agree—girls perform worse on measures of math achievement, and their year-over-year progress seems to slow.
The only thing is—that when examining the brain function of young girls and boys learning math—there’s no noticeable difference between the two. Similarities are evident across the entire brain.
So what is different?
Eh…it’s tangled. But for the sake of time, let’s just say the lived experiences of women when it comes to math are often very different from those of men and math. (Want more data? Don’t worry. We’ve brought receipts—Rebel’s Money and Women trend report.)
The George Washington University Study
In 2021, George Washington University, in collaboration with The Global Financial Literacy Excellence Center, published The Fearless Women report. The report concluded that women are less financially literate than men. However, it was unclear if the observed gap reflected a true lack of financial literacy or if women just had lowered confidence.
The experiment highlighted that when women were given an “I don’t know” option for financial literacy questions, they would often default to that selection. However, when the “I don’t know” option was removed, women often chose the correct answer.
The researchers predicted that the respondents likely knew the correct answers, so about ⅓ of the financial literacy gender gap can be explained by lower confidence—not lower ability.
Oof, that one felt personal…
How finance brands are flipping the script.
So, back to #GirlMath. Here’s the thing—the stereotypes exist. But women are actually good with money. Women investors outperform men investors in investment returns, are more conservative investors, and are less impulsive when it comes to money decisions (source: The Motley Fool).
In the 2021 Women and Investing study from Fidelity, data shows that 67% of women are actively investing outside of retirement—this is up from only 44% in 2018. Moreover, women are making money moves, such as investing their extra savings, making first-time investments in new asset classes, and even setting financial goals that make their money grow.
And, financial brands are beginning to take notice of the gap and challenge the long-held notion that women are bad at math—and by default—money.
Here are a few brands that are doing a fabulous job of taking this conversation of confidence in money to the next level.
Fidelity—Women Talk Money
- What they have. A learning center that encourages the hard conversations about money. They cover everything from how-to guides to digital tools and calculators to webinars and forums that encourage an open dialogue about personal finance.
- Why it works. The platform is focused on women of all age groups and life stages—from retirement to parenting to young women. The broad stroke of content to serve a diverse audience keeps women engaged throughout their money journey—not just at critical moments.
- What they have. An investing platform made for women by women. Beyond investment guidance, the platform offers robust educational content about the topic of money x women.
- Why it works. It feels safe. The personalized approach for women addresses the challenges and needs women often bring to the money management conversation.
Girls Who Invest Non-Profit
- What they have. A focus on inclusivity, education, mentorship, and opportunity for young women in the field of investment management. The vision is that more diversity in portfolio management roles and executive leadership in finance will lend to better financial outcomes at the population level.
- Why it works. GWI is addressing the talent pipeline and actively addressing some of the long-held biases that often steer women away from financial careers.
As with most big changes, there’s more work to be done. So, what are some ways that finance brands can jump in and help flip the script? Glad you asked.
Recognize that #GirlMath may just be an insight into the inner workings of a different value system—not different abilities.
Say what? Yep. Maybe, just maybe, women value different outcomes with their funds. Now, these could be personal goals or the change they want to see in the world—either way, when brands slow down to really listen to their audience, they often find a myriad of unmet needs to create solutions for. #GirlMath may offer exactly this—an inside look at the thought process of purchasing power of 50% of the population. How’s that for some inside baseball?
Make space for the conversation.
This is not new. And, still no less important. Brands of all industries can do a better job of listening to their consumers (read, a shameless plug for Rebel). But, for the finance industry—there’s an even greater need to do so. The consumer journey through money is deeply personal and directly impacts the way they engage with the services and products we create for them. For women, creating the space within the brand service and product to encourage open dialogue about the questions, strategies, and opportunities in money requires an intentional approach to education, content, and connection.
Check your tone.
Turns out, Mom was right. Tone and delivery do matter. Stay clear of condescending, patronizing, or talking down to women when it comes to money. But you already knew that. Even more, audit your current content to ensure the communication makes no assumptions that women are bad at money. You read that right, create content, brand comms and messaging, and even educational how-to’s by making the assumption from the start that women are good at money.
Because they are.
As for the debate around #GirlMath? We’ll let the verdict on this one fall to the audience to decide. But, I do wonder…if I buy concert tickets for a show in a different state because they are cheaper, I can splurge on the travel expenses. I’m actually saving money because I’m buying more with my dollars, like the experience of the trip—not just a concert…right? Asking for a friend.