Friday, 22 July 2011

Why we give our daughters dresses to wear and our sons problems to solve

This week the retailing giant Debenhams revealed that parents spend 20% more on their daughters’ clothes than on their sons'. 

Over the lifetime of childhood that adds up to a lot of pink frocks and sparkly tops. In a report on this for the Daily Mail I was asked the killer question of whether it was nature or nurture. There’s never a simple answer to that question but in this case I plumped for nurture. Look how we still praise girls for looking pretty and comment on their appearance, whereas with boys parents are more likely to get excited when he masters their mobile phone functionality.

Whether or not we know we’re doing it, parents start to treat boys and girls differently in the delivery room. Studies show that parents describe their newborn daughters as more delicate and having finer features than boys, even though gender differences aren’t visible early on. So if you dressed all babies in green (rather than pink or blue) we couldn’t tell which gender they were, with a nappy on of course. (You can fluster adults by handing them a baby and not telling them which sex it is, they really don’t know how to behave).

Later on the difference treatment continues:
·      Parents play more roughly with boy babies than girls.
·      They allow boys to explore more as toddlers.
·      They use more emotion words with girls than boys.
·      They encourage girls more in play that involves domestic themes and dressing up.
These subtle signals create the child’s early gender identity. Girls get more parental and societal approval for ‘looking pretty’, sending the message that what they wear is important to others. As little girls grow, they are socialized to continue to care about their appearance. Society glamorizes the female image and places heavy emphasis on the outward show. I guess that’s why women shop more but it must also subtly skew their aspirations and futures. We buy girls princess outfits and boys get Superman costumes. No wonder only 6% of UK engineers are women (the lowest in the EU) compared to 40% in China (according to the Institute of Technology).

Of course, there will be a myriad of reasons for this difference but spending less of their formative years in dress shops may have had something to do with it. 


Monday, 18 July 2011

Do yourself a favour and Lily will do one for others!

I love the idea behind

Not only is it all about getting people to Do Something Different (a technique we use all the time in our behaviour change work). It's also about people issuing challenges to others and giving something in return.

So this lovely lady, Lily, will donate $1 to Meals on Wheels for every person who takes the 'Save for Retirement Challenge'. 

Her message is straightforward and applies to us in the UK as well as those Americans:

"Start saving now and it'll add up pretty fast (compound interest is a miracle!). Nearly half of today's Americans are at risk for being unable to maintain their current standard of living in retirement. Saving now - even a little bit - makes a difference"

Why not take her up on it - or issue a challenge of your own?

Tuesday, 12 July 2011

The Girl with her Head in the Sand

Imagine this. 
You meet the love of your life and spend 30 blissful years together. He's a writer and has a few novels tucked in his desk drawer; he jokes that one day they’ll pay for your dream home in the country.
You are partners in every sense of the word, with a shared language and often research his books together. But you never get round to marrying.
Then at the age of just 50 he drops down dead. Suddenly his (previously estranged) family appear to claim their entitlement to half of the apartment in which you live. When your lover’s books are published posthumously, earning millions, it’s his family who are the legal heirs to the fortune. You don’t even figure in the picture.
This is what happened to Eva Gabrielsson the woman who was the life partner of Stieg Larsson, author of books including The Girl with The Dragon Tattoo and a global sensation. Eva is currently fighting a legal battle for control of Larsson’s literary estate and campaigning for a change in Swedish law.*
Although Eva describes herself as a feminist, like many women she left the financial affairs to her partner. Sadly Stieg didn’t set up a company to manage their joint assets, as he’d promised. And Eva didn’t find that out until it was too late.
Eva wasn’t unusual in failing to secure her own financial future and being a bit ignorant about their joint finances and her rights.  
In fact, as many as nine out of ten women in relationships prefer the ostrich position and don’t get involved in financial planning.

Yet women have a 70% chance of becoming solely responsible for their own financial well-being
 (through divorce, death of partner etc.)

Is this you?
  • Are you ignorant about your joint finances?
  • Do you just assume ‘things will be taken care of’ in the event of death or disaster?
  • If you are an unmarried co-habitee, do you know what your inheritance rights are?
  • If you got divorced (in most divorces women come off worse than men) how would you manage? And do you know what pension rights would be?
  • Are you spending your money on your children instead of on your own future? (we’ve heard of women cashing in their pensions to help their off-spring to buy a home). 
  • Is it time to do something different and put yourself first?

We hope you never have to wait for disaster to strike before the state of your finances is revealed as inadequate. 

In Sheconomics we give lots of tips on how to innoculate your finances against future adversity. 
Best to do it now -  then you can get on with enjoying your life!

*Eva has written a book about her campaign: Stieg and me: Memories of my life with Stieg Larsson (Orion £12.99).