Despite Strides, Women Still Tripped Up by Confidence Gap

By Michelle Singletary
Sunday, August 24, 2008

In the 1970s, there was an Enjoli perfume commercial showing a woman, clutching a fistful of money, who proclaimed she could bring home the bacon and fry it up in a pan.

The ad's jingle empowered me. Whenever it aired, I would prance around singing it. That's right -- even though I'm a woman, I can earn, spend, save and invest like any man.

But decades later, even though women have moved ahead financially, a number of studies and polls indicate that we still have more to achieve and sometimes we impede our progress with our own doubts.

In a poll by the National Women's Law Center, women were more likely than men to feel that they are falling behind economically. They worry more about their financial future.

For many women, the concerns are not unfounded. More than 14 million women live in poverty. More than 17 million have no health insurance. On average, women earn only 77 cents for every dollar paid to men.

If women in the workforce earned the same amount as men who work the same number of hours, have the same education, age and union status and live in the same region of the country, their annual family incomes would rise by about $4,000 and their poverty rates would be cut by half or more, according to the law center.

Prudential Financial found in a study released this year that women tend to have clear financial priorities but little confidence in their ability to achieve those goals. Less than a quarter feel that they are "very well" prepared to make financial decisions related to employee workplace benefits, retirement and other important financial planning matters.

Prudential called it a confidence gap.

"It's that chasm that lies between knowing something and doing something about it," the study said. The report, "Financial Experience & Behaviors Among Women," is the fifth in a series that began in September 2000.

In 2006, Allianz Life Insurance commissioned a report to better understand how women handle money. In the latest installment of the Allianz Women, Money and Power Study, the insurer found that more than half of all women want to learn more about retirement planning and entry-level saving and investing.

Like other studies, Allianz found that despite their desire to learn more, many women postpone long-term financial planning because they're overwhelmed by short-term priorities, such as caring for children or aging parents, working outside the home and community commitments.

All three of the studies offer recommendations to help women become better off financially.

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