But many women don’t — and they tell Moneyish why they wish they had
This class is so money.
Nearly nine in 10 (88%) of male millennials report taking personal finance or business finance courses while in college, compared to only 54% of female millennials, according to a survey of 1000 adults by Laurel Road, a national online lender. And it’s not like they got taught that stuff in high school: Just five states require students to take a stand-alone personal finance course, and only 12 require it to be part of the curriculum in another course.
Personal finance courses are particularly important for women: Though Americans of both genders struggle mightily with financial literacy, studies show that it is women who struggle more. In one study, 38% of men scored perfectly on a financial literacy test, compared to just 22% of women.
Part of this may be a confidence game: One study found that men tend to take on many of the more advanced financial tasks in a household, while women assume other roles, so men end up learning more about money. It likely also has something to do with gender stereotypes too — many women are taught that they aren’t as good at math as men, so they steer clear of taking a finance course.
Whatever the reasons, it’s clear that women aren’t learning enough about personal finance, and that this learning gap starts in schools. So why aren’t more women taking personal finance courses? While Laurel Road’s data didn’t explore why, Alyssa Schaefer, the CMO and head of product experience at Laurel Road, told Moneyish that it may be that men feel more empowered around money than women and thus gravitate more towards these classes or that they’re more interested in the topics.
Another issue is that, while many schools offer a personal finance course, many women don’t ever hear about them. Indeed, these courses are also often offered through the business school, notes Schaefer, so a women majoring in say, humanities, is out of the loop.
“I don’t think I ever saw any flyers or other promotional materials for personal finance courses on-campus, so I have no idea if they were offered or not. Also, I don’t remember ever having a sit-down presentation or discussion about personal finance and what I need to know about it throughout my four years of college,” says Amanda Garcia, who graduated from college in 2012 with a degree in political science and now works as an editor at Student Loan Hero.
But she says, looking back, she would have “loved” to have taken a personal finance course. “I think I would’ve learned the importance of opening up a retirement account at 18 instead of 23. Even though I wasn’t making much money during college from my part-time job, I still could have put $50 a month or something into a retirement account. Instead, I missed out on 5 years of investing and gains from compound interest,” she says.
Naseema Simpson, who graduated college in 2003 and was never offered a personal finance course, says she had “no clue about how to manage money” while in college. “I was dependent on student loans and knew nothing about saving and wealth building. I could have used a class that taught the true cost of debt and the importance of investing early to benefit from compounding interest,” she says. And she’s not alone: Women take on more student loan debt than men, and as Moneyish reported earlier this week, women regret their student loans even more than men do.
What’s more, women who did take a personal finance class in college say they’re glad that did. Heidi McBain, who graduated in 1996 and took one, tells Moneyish: “I think it’s been so helpful in the way I view money and debt. It was especially helpful in drilling into me the importance of starting saving and investing when you’re young.” Indeed, the counselor and author, notes that “when I graduated from graduate school and got my first job, one of the first things I set up was to have a small amount of money deposited into a retirement account each and every paycheck. It’s amazing to see how that small amount years ago has grown over the years, which is exactly what my professor taught us in college.”
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