The Challenge: Financially Empowered Young Women

Ms Rachel Fraser, Chief Financial Officer

Social, economic and physical constructs (both current and historical) have resulted in a swathe of statistics reflecting that globally, women continue to earn lower wages than men (13.4%) (Workplace Gender Equality Agency, 2021), have higher participation in casualised, financially insecure roles, exhibit much lower levels of financial literacy, and retire with almost 50 per cent less superannuation than men (Melbourne Institute, 2020).

Women have been, and are continuing to be, left behind in financial wellbeing.

More than 40 per cent of women find money decisions overwhelming and stressful (Australian Securities and Investment Commission, 2018) and a recent survey experiment undertaken by the Global Financial Literacy Excellence Centre found that about one third of the financial literacy gender gap can be attributed to women’s lower confidence levels (Bucher-Koenen, T. et al., 2021).

Alarmingly, a Melbourne Institute paper released in 2020 revealed that the phase of ‘emerging adulthood’—in which financial autonomy is learned over time at home—plays an important role for young men but not for young women’ (Botha et al., 2020). Why do young women not see this as a phase of personal development that is significant for their lives?

The analysis measured how involved young men and women are in making decisions about day-to-day expenses, large household purchases, and managing savings and investments while living at home. The findings suggest young women are systematically placed at a disadvantage compared to young men and that this could potentially ‘manifest itself with poorer choices with respect to high interest borrowing, responsible credit card purchasing and financial planning’ (Botha et al., p. 14).
These statistics and findings are heartbreaking and disappointing.

Money is integral to almost every decision we make. It can be both the product and cause of our decisions and is intrinsically linked to almost everything we do. While this is the case, historically, money has been a closed and taboo topic in many cultures worldwide, and curious, excited questions of the young have been silenced quickly.
Being confident and capable with money cannot be learned overnight. It must be modelled, guided, taught, personally experienced, and openly discussed among both young men and young women. The exclusion of women from this conversation has supported the power that men have traditionally held over women for centuries.
The Australian Government articulated its commitment to lifting Australia’s financial capability by supporting Australians to make the most of their financial resources and developed the National Financial Capability Strategy 2018. However, three years on, the impact of this strategy is yet to be reported on in any substantive way. Progress appears to be painfully slow.

Banks have attempted to fill this space for many years by instituting school-based banking programs for students, however in a preliminary report in September 2019, ASIC found there was ‘limited evidence’ that school-banking programs created meaningful money-saving behaviour in students (2019, p. 12).

There is highly complex, and often contentious and confusing commentary regarding who should be responsible for financial education (including consumer literacy, financial literacy, financial knowledge, financial wellbeing, and financial autonomy). Schools have been called on to include financial literacy into the school day (ABC, 2021). There have also been numerous calls for a revaluation of the role of parents in raising ‘adaptable financial consumers’ (van Campenhout, G., 2015).

While the contention and commentary continue over who should be responsible, we continue to fail our young men and women who enter the world without the financial literacy to effectively manage their finances to support productive lives. It seems so complex, and too hard to fix.

Perhaps rather than the complex, could we look at a more straightforward construct or purpose to frame our approach? I wonder if a pivot is made, to consider how we educate, inspire and support our girls to have the confidence to build and protect their own asset base over time—starting small, learning big, and building understanding over time that such an asset base ensures their independence, autonomy, and most importantly, choice for their adult life.

A 2013 study in the USA found that ‘most girls expect to be independent and financially empowered, see few gender barriers in their way, and have high expectations for their future financial lives’ (Girl Scout Research Institute, 2013, p. 2). Our girls are no different. As a school, as parents and as a community, we ought to challenge ourselves to consider and open our thinking to address the following questions:

  • How could we better encourage curiosity, engagement and improve our girls’ knowledge (with the added sense of joy) about building, growing, and protecting their own personal asset base?
  • When do we start these conversations, and how do we maintain them as normal, interesting, and even exciting?
  • What conversations do we have about both good and poor (financial) decisions that impact on asset growth, no matter how small?
  • How can we discuss risk and reward, how to fail small, learn quickly, recover, and turn around those decisions? How do we keep fear and guilt away from the conversations?

The concept of asset growth and financial education for adolescent girls was discussed by Morcos and Smestad, in a study that looked at contextualising financial education to include growth in social and human assets such as trust, relationships, esteem, autonomy, networks, and financial and physical assets such as cash savings, investments, and property.

While the study concluded that there is no one-size-fits-all form of financial education, it did identify that timing was critical to the effectiveness of the education—students need to see an immediate benefit to their understanding of various financial constructs. The best way to capture these timely opportunities as they arise is through regular, engaging, day-to-day life conversations.

I hope that we can all start to let go of the taboo nature of money talk, further engage in these conversations, and build a legacy of financially empowered, confident, and capable young women.



Australian Broadcasting Corporation (2021, February 11). Should financial literacy be a compulsory subject in schools? These experts think so. Retrieved May 25, 2021 from /13135540

Australia’s Gender Pay Gap Statistics 2021 | WGEA. (n.d.). Retrieved May 25, 2021 from


Botha, F. et al. (2020). Financial autonomy among emerging adults in Australia. Melbourne Institute. Retrieved May 22, 2021 from:


Bucher-Koenen, T., et al. (2021). Fearless Woman: Financial Literacy and Stock Market Participation. Global Financial Literacy Excellence Centre. Retrieved May 25, 2021 from


CP 323 Review of school banking programs | ASIC – Australian Securities and Investments Commission. (n.d.). Retrieved May 25, 2021 from cument/consultation-papers/cp-323-review-of-school -banking-programs/


Financial Capability Strategy | (n.d.). Retrieved May 22, 2021 from


Girl Scout Research Institute. (2013). Having it all – girls and financial literacy. Retrieved from:


Morcos, C. and Smestad, J. (2011). Financial Education for Adolescent Girls. Retrieved May 22, 2021 from

van Campenhout, G. (2015). Journal of Consumer Affairs, vol. 49, issue 1, 186-222. Retrieved from: