Men, money, and mental health

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From the things they spend money on, to the way they invest, men and women take different approaches to dealing with money.

It’s well-reported that men are more likely to take bigger risks when it comes to investing and that women are more likely to make financial decisions for their family. We have different purchasing patterns and stances on the best way to manage our money.

Men have also commonly been depicted as “earners” and women as “spenders” in the media — a problematic divide that was the focus of the #MakeMoneyEqual campaign in 2018.

In particular, financial feminists have been calling attention to the stereotypes around money and working to dismantle the inherent but implicit sexism at their root. For instance, the articles aimed at women that offer “tips and tricks” for “saving pennies”, compared to strong advice around investment, debt, pensions and so on that has typically been aimed at men.

But the stereotypes affecting women when it comes to money also have inverse repercussions on men.

Whilst the “thrifty-splurger” trope in women’s media contrasts starkly to the image of the “savvy financier” portrayed in magazines aimed at men, a huge 70% of articles aimed at male audiences emphasise that making money is a masculine ideal.

As Erica Buist wrote, “male-directed articles talk of portfolios, calculated risk, and rely heavily on stereotypes of aspirations to combat, strength and power. They also heavily imply that the reader was competitive”.

In other words, the language implicitly suggests that monetary success and financial literacy are essential to men enhancing their personal status and getting ahead of colleagues or peers. It bolsters masculine norms and expectations of what it means to be a man.

But when men can’t live up to these expectations it starts to impact their mental health — their self-esteem and sense of identity.

Consider the many pieces of research done into how men feel when it comes to being the “breadwinner”.

For example: Bath University released a study in 2019, which found that men become increasingly stressed if their wives earn over 40% of the household income. They also struggled much more if they felt financially dependent on their partners. The study was conducted over 15 years and surveyed over 6,000 heterosexual couples — and the results highlight how societal constructs and gender expectations around money can seriously impact the male psyche.

Similarly, a study from 2016 was conducted by CALM (Campaign Against Living Miserably) and The Huffington Post for their Building Modern Men campaign; this identified that financial strain in a relationship was one of the potential triggers behind male depression. The research showed that “men are more likely to feel pressure to be the main earner in families, with 31% of men surveyed saying this, compared to 19% of women. In addition, a quarter of men said losing their job would make them feel less of a person, compared to 17% of women.”

Despite the fact that more and more women earn salaries equal to or higher than their partner, men are still spoken to as if their ability to provide money is their main role in the partnership, that their ability to earn is an essential pillar to their identity. This is why even men who consider themselves to be forward-thinking and progressive may be surprised to feel concerned and unsettled if they earn less than their significant other.

The fact is, money is emotional for everyone. This is as true for men as it is for women.

But as CALM pointed out in the results of their study, men are far less likely to talk about their fears around money.

Whilst they may be more comfortable talking shop or discussing general money topics with friends and family, they appear to be less willing to admit to financial anxiety and stress.

Men are also less likely to reach out for help when they do hit a crisis point in their mental health. They remain twice as likely to feel they must be ‘emotionally strong’ than women and are three times more likely to take their own lives.

To an extent, this is an issue of how men are taught about and spoken to about money.

Harmful stereotypes are buried in the way we’re educated on finance as well as in the media we consume about money.

We need to cut so much of the combative language associated with male finance.

We need to show how there are so many other ways to be a provider and part of a partnership than just earning more. This is particularly true in heterosexual families, where research from CALM’s Masculinity Audit has also shown that the majority of dads (87%) want to spend more time with their children.

We need men to develop better relationships with their bank accounts, rather than unconsciously playing into traditional tropes and gender norms that may encourage higher ticket purchases and higher risk investments — not to mention negative attitudes towards women and their money.

Financial feminism — like every other kind of feminism — is as much about addressing male relationships with money as it is female relationships with money. If we want to talk about genuine empowerment, we need to start by helping everyone feel better when it comes to their personal relationship with money.

And yes — this would mean talking about privilege and learning how the system has benefited certain genders and groups more than others in the first place. It would also mean talking about how those outdated views harm all of us now — not least when it comes to our mental wellbeing.

Or as Emma Gannon wrote so succinctly, “Men shouldn’t have to suffer under huge money pressures of ‘being a man’ and women shouldn’t be spoken to like they are naturally bad or inept with money.”

After all, neither stereotype is true.

Authors: Harriet Allner and ikigai

Harriet Allner is a writer, blogger and fintech specialist. She cares about stories that matter and is passionate about promoting conversation around money positivity and financial feminism.

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This article is not advice. ikigai is a trading name of Ikigai Invest Services Limited, a company registered in England and Wales (Company number: 12011662). Ikigai Invest Services Limited is registered with the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) as an EMD Agent (reference number: 902740) of PayrNet Limited, an Electronic Money Institution authorised by the FCA (reference number: 900594) and is an appointed representative of WealthKernel (reference number: 723719) which is authorised and regulated by the FCA. ikigai is not a bank. Registered address: 16 Great Chapel Street, London, England, W1F 8FL.

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