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Look how men’s and women’s magazines write about money

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I read Oprah’s magazine once in a while. Yes, I said it. And my jaw drops when I see an article like the recent, “25 things you don’t have to worry about.” What? Why do I need a magazine to tell me what I don’t need to worry about?

But I’m not the target audience. It turns out men and women’s magazines are very different in the way they present money. Whether that’s good or bad is the subject of a guest post by Nina Smith from Queercents. I love how she’s used excerpts to point out the differences in how men’s and women’s magazines write about money.

-Ramit

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Investment advice comes in all shapes and sizes. Grab a few back issues of Esquire and a quick scan of its “investing” columns reveals “investing” advice. For example, they give opinions on buying Wal-Mart, selling Apple, and buying the Baby Bells vs. Cable Companies.

But do the same with O, the Oprah Magazine and this is what the editors categorize as “investing”:Oprah on Investing

  • How to buy life insurance
  • The basics of financial planning and investing
  • Home finance basics everyone should know
  • Know how much home you can afford
  • How to play rollover with your 401(k)

So here’s my Aha! moment: why do men get “investing” advice in their magazines and we get financial basics in ours?

Women get touchy-feely encouragement
Suze Orman is an O Magazine columnist and typically I like her advice. She’s spot on when it comes to buying a used car and term life insurance. But when speaking to women, is she talking down to us?

Case in point: look at what she says about establishing a rainy day fund in this O article. She writes, “Ideally, you will have eight months of living expenses stashed in a savings account. I know that sounds daunting, but make it a goal. Start putting away a little each month. Every penny you save is a step toward building your own personal insurance plan.”

Ahem… “I know that sounds daunting but make it a goal.”

Would a male personal finance expert ever instruct a man this way?

Men get hard-hitting advice
Ken Kurson, the columnist at Esquire and author of The Green Magazine Guide to Personal Finance: A No B.S. Money Book for Your Twenties and Thirties writes, “You’re keeping your emergency cash in a money market fund. In other words, don’t fund the expansion of your portfolio into stocks and bonds with the money you’re keeping on reserve, but feel free to consider that money part of your portfolio.”

See the difference? First let’s consider the demographics of O Magazine: The median age is 45, readership is predictably female (91%), married (66%), and a median household income of $88,000. Their readers aren’t exactly females fresh out of college.

So Orman is encouraging forty year old women to make sure they have an emergency fund and Kurson assumes twentysomething guys already have a stash in reserve. Perhaps this is why CNBC gets Jim Cramer and The Today Show has Jean Chatzky.

A commenter at BloggingStocks had this analysis of Orman’s writings by saying, “When someone is talking to me about money, I want math. I bought one of Suze’s books and when she started talking about how I ‘felt’ about my money, I put the book down in disgust. Behavior patterns as applied to money fall under psychology; everything else is quantifiable. I don’t need to have a good relationship with my money; I need to understand how the stock market, the housing market and my 401K work.”

Gender-specific behaviors with money
But do female money experts talk down to us or are we inviting the tone by behavior? After all, according to Manisha Thakor and Sharon Kedar, authors of On My Own Two Feet, the average woman between ages 24 and 35 has only $500 in savings.

Woman’s Day acts like their readers only have $500 in savings as well and I don’t know any women under fifty subscribing to that magazine. Mary Hunt is their columnist and a quick glance at her 2007 columns reveal topics like “Big Online Bargains” and “Slash Your Food Bills”.

Kay Bell, the blogger at Don’t Mess with Taxes, gives her perception on the male vs. female financial behaviors. She writes, “Even today, some gender-specific societal expectations manage to persist… That is, a lot of women take a more ‘supportive’ fiscal approach, focusing on money maintenance, holding on to what they have, instead of taking steps to advance it.”

“We need to get over that right now and get more aggressive when it comes to money – making it, saving it, investing it. The go-for-it approach seems to be more typical of male financial bloggers. Men, at least in my anecdotal observations, are more apt to be risk takers with their money. They embrace the idea that to make more money you sometimes have to take some financial risks with what you’ve got.”

And it’s not just Oprah
I couldn’t find any money advice in InStyle magazine, but they offer plenty of ideas on how to spend it. Glamour claims to have a money expert, but the only thing I could find was an online debt quiz. Take it and see how you stack up with their readers. If you’re a regular follower of personal finance blogs then it’s likely you’re way of ahead of these well-heeled and in style consumers.

Just to be fair and balanced, I reviewed some other men’s magazines and money was either missing or sexualized and presented by young, attractive female writers. Check out the article by Anya Kamenetz in Men’s Health called, 7 Financial Habits of Highly Laid Men. Enough said – otherwise this might segue into a different discussion.

But maybe money is missing from general interest magazines because men go to the source for their financial advice by subscribing to the money periodicals. As an example here is the male / female readership break down for Fortune and Money:

Money: Male/Female (64% / 36%)
Fortune: Male/Female (79% / 21%)

And guess who is reading The Wall Street Journal and Financial Times?

Money spends the same whether it’s carried in a purse or wallet
So does tone and depth of the advice really matter? In the end, money is money and basic truths are better than nothing at all. But if empowerment and financial independence are what Suze Orman wants for the ladies, then maybe it’s time to butch up the advice. Don’t sugarcoat or wrap it in a soft, pretty package. We’re ready to take it like a man! That’s how you turn women savers into women investors!

Finally, for the sake of starting a conversation below, do you agree that women get fed the softer side of money from women’s magazines? Or will some of you accuse me of gender-generalizing? If you agree, then what should we do about it? Write to Oprah? Or just subscribe to Fortune and Money like the big boys?

—————
Nina blogs about money at Queercents.

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69 Comments

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  1. Having read way too many women’s magazines in my time, I certainly can’t disagree with anything you’ve said about what they say about money. I haven’t read enough men’s magazines to know if what they say is different, but I’ll take your word for it.

    I want to learn more about investing (I would say I have a good grasp of the basics but that’s it). However, I find that my eyes gloss over when I pick up Forbes, Fortune, etc. That said, my husband reads them but not for the investing advice but rather for the profiles and features.

  2. To play devil’s advocate here, they are just writing for their core demographic. Their studies/research/feedback tell them that to write a financial article geared to women, it should be done in such a way. This may seem demeaning to women who are educated in finance (or who just crave the hard facts), but for the majority of readers I bet it is just perfect. My wife, for example, would enjoy the article in the O Magazine than one with hard hitting facts. And let’s face it, these magazines are primarily written for entertainment.

    My wife reminded me of this when I balked at Parenting magazine, which by the title you would assume is written for “parents”. But their readership is primarily female, so almost all of their articles are geared towards women. The articles written for men? They talk down to us like kids, as if we couldn’t possibly change a diaper or raise a child without serious help. It’s all basic information.

    My advice? Ditch the gender-specific magazines and pick up a real financial publication. All the “mens” magazines have the same junk articles.

    PS: Men’s Health magazine is a joke!

  3. I am a regular reader of O Magazine. For some context, I am a 27 year old woman, I cohabitate with my fiance, I am employed full time and we have a household income above the average quoted for the typical O Magazine reader. I am a lot younger than her typical readers, but otherwise have quite a bit in common with them.

    I don’t read men’s magazines, so I can’t really say whether or not financial advice is presented differently to men or women. But I do think it is presented in a somewhat touchy-feely manner to women. And you know what? I think it’s a good thing. Maybe it’s because of my younger age than the average O reader, but I don’t consider Suze’s advice style to be condescending or talking down to me. I appreciate that she bothers to acknowledge that her advice can seem daunting. I have about one month’s worth of living expenses in my emergency fund and it’s taken a long time to build it up because I have a lot of fixed expenses to deal with, so if someone told me to build up 8 months’ worth of living expenses in my emergency fund, I would probably just write it off as over-ambitious advice not based in reality. But she brings some reality to it by acknowledging that it will be difficult, and then she boosts your confidence by telling you that you can do it anyway. I like that style.

    I don’t like the hard-hitting, facts-only style that you describe for men’s magazines. I’m just as smart as the men I know, but I have a different communication style from most men. So if the advice is spot-on and being delivered in a column I find well-written, realistic and interesting to read, I’m more likely to pay attention. Men don’t seem to appreciate this style. They want just the facts, so their magazines provide that. I’m not saying that my preference would hold true for all women, but there are a lot of women who prefer their financial advice packaged that way. I don’t care if that makes it “softer;” ultimately if I follow the advice, I’ll still end up making smart financial moves regardless of how the suggestions were phrased.

  4. Casual observer Link to this comment

    “We’re ready to take it like a man” – coming from a women who I’m guessing is a lesbian, is this any surprise?

  5. We talk down to women about money for the same reason we give our daughters names like “Tiffany” and “Amber” whilie naming our sons things like “Robert” and “David”. Our expectation is that they will be homemakers or trophies and nothing else. How many physicians have you known named “Amber”? Mine is named Mary.

  6. Women’s magazines are made to provide a touchy feeling, with anything they write about. I like them for exactly this, just a lazy afternoon and a comforting talk. They are not meant to be educational.
    If I want facts, I’ll get them somewhere else. Usually, this would be a decent book that covers the basics properly and shows where to get more knowledge on special topics afterwards.
    And just a word on the ‘hard’ investing advice in men’s magazines. I don’t consider ‘sell apple and buy … (you choose)’ as such.

  7. I just watched yesterday’s Oprah where Suze Orman and two families in deep debt were on. I did observe that she spoke more like a motivational speaker and only gave two or three good tips to each family. With the kind of debt they were in, they need more than a general “get a job and sell your house” or “your car is not your baby, the baby is the baby” advice.

    She did address that people keep on buying things to define themselves and that ignorance is not an excuse. That’s good advice, especially when you look at what’s being spouted in women’s magazines these days. The information is out there but sometimes the wakeup call is what is needed first.

    I think the traditional attitude towards money roles is that the women take care of the day-to-day money while men make the decisions for the big purchases and investments. I remember asking a 60-something lady about finances (asking from a 20-ish year old female’s point of view) and she said that women in her generation were taught to rely on their husbands about money. Household money was theirs but they had no idea what to do with $1 million and what investment risk meant. I replied that was also the last generation that people believed politicians had their best interests in mind.

    It’d be great if parents would teach their children finances in a genderless manner, just like men and women should know how to use a screwdriver, boil water, and check their oil. It is crucial to being self-sufficient. If parents don’t want to raise their child to depend on a spouse, they need to teach them everything they’d teach either gender.

  8. I agree that women get the softer side of finance and I think its more of that supportive, nurturing stuff that I’m not such a big fan of. Its interesting that I don’t know any of the female personal finance bloggers who put forward that sort of tone.

    I think we should stop getting our financial advice from second-rate sources and start using better sources – someone will market something better to us if we create a demand.

  9. Suze seems to take a certain tone in her books as well, not unlike the one in O. You’re right that it feels a bit patronizing. But I think her books are intended for both genders and not trying to be sexist.

    That said, I’ve never read anything really financially useful in a womens’ magazine. Some basic stuff, but that’s it. Female PF bloggers rock, though, even if the guys are still on top.

  10. Women’s magazines in general have decided that I am a shallow idiot. They are not funny or clever, they offer advice on how to please my man, but not on how to be pleased, and they are constantly trying to convince me that I am ugly and need their beauty tips. Because of this, I started subscribing to men’s general interest magazines.

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